Sunday, 26 March 2017 00:55

The complications in Yemen

The Yemeni conflict is frequently called a forgotten war, because in terms of media coverage it is always overshadowed by Syria and Iraq. But its tragedy is no less serious, and has no justification; this is the only simple thing about the conflict. Politically and historically it is a complete mess, more so than the public imagines.
 
The roots of the bloodshed go deep; we must take this into account when analyzing the situation. The current crisis started not in 2014 but in June 2004, and its direct roots are in the 1962 revolution in North Yemen that ended more than 1,000 years of Zaidi rule.
 
In 2004, the conflict flared when dissident Zaidi cleric Hussein Badreddin Al-Houthi launched an uprising against the Yemeni government, following an attempt by the authorities to arrest him. The government accused the Zaidis and other Islamist groups of trying to overthrow it and the republican system. Iran was accused of managing and fueling the uprising with financial support.
 
The rebels said they were defending themselves, and accused the government of committing an act of aggression. The conflict has since killed thousands of people and caused severe economic losses for the country.
 
In 2011, the Houthis tried to ride the wave of the 2011 revolution, expressing their full support for democracy. They overthrew the local government in Saada and established their own rule, independent from Sanaa. Following the revolution, Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down after 33 years as president, and was succeeded by Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
 
Yemenis had many reasons to be discontent with the government, including enormous corruption, high levels of unemployment, economic decline and the absence of prospects for youths. These formed the core of the uprising, which was part of the Arab Spring. A change of leader could hardly bring significant change to the country; it needed in-depth reforms and a full restructuring of the governmental system.
 
Since 2011, Ansar Allah, the official name of the Houthi movement, had been sustainably undermining the authorities in Sanaa. It overthrew them in January 2015 after months of clashes and protests, again seizing on popular grievances such as the rising price of oil to gain support from ordinary Yemenis. Pro-Saleh forces joined Ansar Allah, even though the Houthis supported the 2011 revolution against him.
  
Hadi was forced to leave Sanaa, and the Houthis seized key provinces, though they have been expelled from southern Yemen due to Operation Decisive Storm. The campaign is carried out by a broad international coalition led by Saudi Arabia and supported by many major global and regional players, including the US. It is accompanied by Operation Restoring Hope, whose aim is to reach a political solution, but so far without concrete results.
 
Seven million people are on the brink of starvation due to the conflict. The health care system has collapsed. The conflict is worsening and becoming sectarian. The Houthis can no longer deny receiving backing from Iran, which they have been trying to conceal since 2004.
 
It is difficult to deliver humanitarian aid, especially in areas under Houthi control, not only due to airstrikes, but because of Houthi denial of access to aid convoys, and provocations by local community leaders. A Russian humanitarian convoy recently faced such a provocation while distributing aid in the Darawan camp for internally displaced Yemenis, forcing it to stop its work. Such cases are common and lead to the continuation of people’s suffering.
 
Attempts at constructive dialogue have failed as the Houthis and pro-Saleh forces have violated agreements and cease-fires. But a cease-fire is urgently needed, at least to allow humanitarian convoys to reach those in need, and at best to launch a political process and implement a UN roadmap.
 
The insurgents are becoming global troublemakers, recently planting underwater mines in Bab Al-Mandab, thus threatening the security of navigation in one of the most important waterways.
 
The situation is aggravated by Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Yemen is bombed not only by coalition forces but also by the US, which has been striking terrorist positions in Yemen since the mid-2000s, inflicting civilian casualties. Coalition airstrikes are undoubtedly causing severe civilian losses, as in any similar situation.
 
Peace must prevail soon, not in the name of politics but for civilians. The coalition and its international supporters, as well as the legitimate President Hadi and forces loyal to him, are eager to work on a political solution and an inclusive government. But the international community does not have sufficient influence over the Houthis, whose actions belie the innocent image they are trying to portray. They are first to be blamed for civilian suffering.
 
Their slogan “death to America, death to Israel, a curse on the Jews and victory to Islam” hardly correlates with the image of an oppressed people fighting for democracy and equal rights. The slogan is reminiscent of something heard all too often in Iran.
 
Continuing violence and sectarianism are creating regional instability and a breeding ground for extremist groups and terrorism. A roadmap to settle the conflict exists. The hardest question remains how to make all sides speak with each other. They have to demonstrate a high level of responsibility for the fate of their own compatriots, who have become hostages, and put aside politics to work on building a common fate.
 
The work of government institutes that are trying to function despite the conflict shows the high potential of Yemenis to overcome the crisis. The international community should take an active part in the peace process.
 
Article published in Arab News: http://www.arabnews.com/node/1073521/opinion
Published in Tribune
Tuesday, 21 February 2017 00:00

Can Iran change? We hope it will!

Our region is rife with turmoil. We have a crisis in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen, Libya. We have an Iran that is rampant in its support of terrorism and interference in the affairs of other countries. We face terrorism, we face piracy, we face challenges of economic development and job creation. We face challenges in terms of reforming our economies and bringing the standard of living of our people to a higher level. We have the challenge of trying to bring peace between Israelis and Arabs.

I am an optimist, because if your job is to solve problems, you cannot be a pessimist. We have to do everything we can in order to deal with the challenges that we face. I believe that 2017 will be a year in which a number of the challenges will be resolved. I believe the crisis in Yemen will be brought to an end and the attempt to overthrow the legitimate government will have failed. We can then work on putting Yemen on the path of economic development and reconstruction. I believe progress can be made in the Arab-Israeli conflict. If there is a will to do so, we know what a settlement looks like. We just need the political will to do so. And my country stands ready with other Arab countries to work to see how we can promote that.

I believe that a political settlement in Syria is also possible.

One of the biggest factors that will help to resolve many of these challenges is the new American administration. Yes, I am very optimistic about the Trump administration. I know there are a lot of concerns or questions in Europe about the new administration, but I like to remind my European friends that when Ronald Reagan was elected in 1981, there was a lot of concern in Europe. People thought World War III would take place. And yet, how did it all turn out?

Ronald Reagan reasserted America’s place in the world. He made comprehensive arms control agreements with the Soviet Union, he pushed back against the Soviet Union and he ended the Cold War. It is a wonderful history. When we look at the Trump administration, we see a president who is pragmatic and practical, a businessman, a problem-solver, a man who is not an ideologue. We see a man who has a certain view of the world. He wants America to play a role in the world.

Our view is that when America disengages, it creates tremendous danger in the world, because it creates vacuums and into these vacuums evil forces flow. And it takes many times the effort to push back against these evil forces than to prevent them from emerging in the first place.

For 35 years, we have extended our arm in friendship to the Iranians, and for 35 years we have gotten death and destruction in return. This cannot continue.

Adel Al-Jubeir

Trump believes in destroying Daesh. So do we. He believes in containing Iran. So do we. He believes in working with traditional allies. So do we. And when we look at the composition of the Cabinet and the personalities that he appointed — secretary of defense, secretary of state, secretary of homeland security, director of the FBI, secretary of commerce, secretary of treasury — these are very experienced, highly skilled, highly capable individuals who share that world-view. So we expect to see America engaged in the world. We expect to see a realistic American foreign policy and we look forward to working with this administration very, very closely. Our contacts with the administration have been very positive and we are looking at how we can deal with the challenges facing our region and the world.

When I look at our region today, I see a challenge that emanates from Iran. Iran remains the biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world. Iran has — as part of its constitution — the principle of exporting the revolution. Iran does not believe in the principle of citizenship. It believes that the Shiite — the “dispossessed,” as Iran calls them — all belong to Iran and not to their countries of origin. This is unacceptable for us in the Kingdom, for our allies in the Gulf and for any country in the world.

The Iranians do not believe in the principle of good neighborliness or non-interference in the affairs of others. This is manifested in their interference in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan. The Iranians have disrespected international law by attacking embassies, assassinating diplomats, by planting terrorist cells in other countries, by harboring and sheltering terrorists.

In 2001, when the US went to war against Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, the board of directors of Al-Qaeda moved to Iran. Saad Bin Laden, Osama Bin Laden’s son, Saif El-Adel, the chief of operations for Al-Qaeda, and almost a dozen senior leaders went and lived in Iran. The order to blow up three housing compounds in our nation’s capital (Riyadh) in 2003 was given by Saif El-Adel — while he was in Iran — to the operatives in Saudi Arabia. We have the conversation on tape. It is irrefutable. The Iranians blew up Khobar Towers in 1996. They have smuggled weapons and missiles to the Houthis in Yemen in violation of UN Security Council resolutions in order to lock these missiles at our country and kill our people.

And so, (when) we look at the region, we see terrorism, and we see a state sponsor of terrorism that is determined to upend the order in the Middle East. The Iranians are the only country in the region that has not been attacked by either Daesh or Al-Qaeda. And this begs the question, why? If Daesh and Al-Qaeda are extremist Sunni organizations, you would think that they would be attacking Iran as a Shiite state. They have not. Could it be that there is a deal between them that prevents them or causes them not to attack the Iranians? This is a question that we keep asking ourselves.

The Iranians talk about wanting to turn a new page, wanting to look forward, not backwards. This is great. But what do we do about the present? We cannot ignore what they are doing in the region. We cannot ignore the fact that their constitution, as I mentioned earlier, calls for the export of the revolution. How can one deal with a nation whose objective is to destroy us? So until and unless Iran changes its behavior, and changes its outlook, and changes the principles upon which the Iranian state is based, it will be very difficult to deal with a country like this. Not just for Saudi Arabia, but for other countries.

We are hopeful that Iran will change. We respect Iran’s culture, we respect the Iranian people. It is a great civilization, it is a neighbor of ours. We have to deal with them for many, many years. But it takes two to have a good relationship. For 35 years, we have extended our arm in friendship to the Iranians, and for 35 years we have gotten death and destruction in return. This cannot continue.

• These are edited excerpts from Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir’s address at a session — titled “Old Problems, New Middle East” — at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday. The session was moderated by BBC’s Lyse Doucet.

Video of the address is available here : https://www.securityconference.de/en/media-library/munich-security-conference-2017/video/statement-by-adel-bin-ahmed-al-jubeir/ 
Initially published by IMESClub's partner : Arab News

Published in Tribune
Thursday, 28 May 2015 02:28

Who are the Yemeni Houthis?

The Yemeni Houthis are among the main motives for the intervention in Yemen by Saudi Arabia led coalition that started on the 25th March 2015. The Houthis are not tolerated not only by Saudi Arabia, but also by the US – both leading sponsors of the manageable political process in Yemen that was launched in 2011.

The Houthis were accused of being an Iranian “Trojan horse” that has infiltrated the back areas of Saudi Kingdom. The war in Yemen is interpreted as a proxy war where Saudi Arabia has faced Iranian agents – the Houthis, who had committed a coup in order to seize power in Yemen. The leading international media controlled by the US and the UK have been playing a major role in demonization of the Houthis for long time.

The unusual feature of the Yemeni case is that the country has been de-facto under the mandate of the UN for more than three years, which prioritized the realization of the two-step peace settlement plan of Yemeni crisis – the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)initiative. Even President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi who has replaced Ali Abdullah Saleh, a dictator, who ruled the country for many years, in February 2012, was nothing more than a designated person who was entrusted to carry out the peace plan of the transition issued by the international community. The Special Envoy of the Secretary General of the UN Jamal Benomar was a second person appointed for this task by the UN Security Council.

The Saudi intervention that was formally provoked by President Hadi’s speech on the 23d March 2015 has in fact rendered futile the long Benomar’s mission. His resignation on the 16th of April 2015 was followed by a number of shocking declarations with the worst assessments of Saudi military intervention that, from his point of view, has ruined the pretty likely possibility of successful completion of the transition and the termination of the severe crisis in Yemen.

The falseness of the thesis about the connections between the Houthis (Ansar Allah movement) and Iranian agents is evident for the experts. Thus, the leading US orientalists have strongly condemned the Saudi intervention in Yemen as well as the supportive role of the US and the UK governments. In Washington Post they declared that they were well aware of the internal divides in the Yemeni society, but that they strongly believed that the Yemeni should be given an opportunity to negotiate the political settlement themselves.

The Houthis see the intervention as yet another act of adversity by the ruling Saudi dynasty towards Yemen. They believe that the Saudi wish to crush Yemen by the ideology of religious intolerance towards both Zaidiyya(the Shia) and the Yemeni Shafi'i (the Sunni) with the support of the Wahhabiwing of Muslim Brotherhood within the Islah party and of the terrorist structures of Al-Qaeda. According to Houthis the Saudi consider the prevention of the victory of the Yemeni patriots the key element of the general plan to divide the country.

They also consider the war as the indication of fear of the regional reaction to the Yemeni revolution that started in February 2011 and that has brought Yemen closer to a true national rebirth after the hard series of crises.

There are four stages of development of the Houthis as a political movement:

The birth stage covered the period of 1997-2001, when Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, Zaydi, representative of an ancient Hashemitecleric clan of Sadah, became the head of the Zaydi movement “Shabab al-Mumin”. Disillusioned by the Zaydi party al-Hakk, we has turned his attention to the youth and charitable social projects. His concerns were focused on the protection on the Zaydi cultural heritage from the attacks of the Wahhabipreachers, who had declared Zaidiyyaa heterodoxy (Takfir) and were trying to completely eliminate it.

The Wahhabiactivity in Yemen was led by a radical wing of the Muslim Brotherhood of Sheikh Abdelmajid al-Zindani, which together with the tribal group of Hashed Sheikh  Abdullah ibn Husayn al-Ahmar formed a core of Islah party. Islah has firmly occupied the second line of the Yemeni political parties rating, with the party of power of President Saleh (GPC) on the first place after the unification of the two Yemeni states in 1990 and with YSP, the party of the South, on the third place. The success of Islah was assured by the generous Saudi funding. A wide network of Salafi schools “Maahid Yl’miya” was founded in 1970 under the aegis of Islah. The political support of the Salafiproselytism by the republic’s government back in the 1979 has allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to open a big religious educational center in Sadah, the native city of Yemeni Zaydis, Dar al-Hadis, that has become a source of sectarian conflicts between the Zaydis and the Salafi.

The second stage of the Houthi movement took the period from the end of 2001 to June 2004 and was characterized by the increase of the fields of activity of “shabab mumin” movement and by the simultaneous adoption of the specific attributes of the movement, its stigmatization. The leader’s attention was focused on the criticism against the US policy in the region and on the accented analysis of the Israeli position. Several specific religious and secular dates related to the development of ideas of Zaydi Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi followers were set to be celebrated. These holidays were the following: Zaidiyyaholiday “Id la-Gadir” (the farewell preachment of the Prophet), that was sometimes banned by the republican authorities due to the security reasons; the Birthday of the Prophet (Moulad Nabaviy), common for the majority of Sunni and Shia, but condemned by the Wahhabis; and the day of Palestine, that allowed to attract the audience to the Palestinian issues. The terrorist acts of 9/11/01 that provoked a shock among Muslims and the US military intervention in Iraq in 2003 as well have become the turning point for the ideological development of the Houthi movement. Zaydi Hussein al-Houthi believed that the responsibility for fighting the extremist ideologies lies primarily upon the leaders of the countries themselves. He condemned the delegation of this duty to the US, the politics of which he considered adversary to Islam and explicitly pro-Israeli. He was one of the first to consider Al-Qaeda as one of the means of the US military intervention in the Middle East in order to divide its society. In 2003 the Houthis have adopted a specific slogan “Death to the USA! Death to Israel! Shame to the Israeli! Victory to Islam!” that they yelled after the Friday religious services.

The third phase overlaps with the tragic Sa'dah wars that lasted from June 2004 to February 2010. Besides regular governmental forces the Houthis were opposed by Islah militia. The commander of the governmental coalition General Ali Mohsen, well-known for his sympathies to Wahhabismand close contacts with Saudi military elites, widely used the Jihadist rhetoric against the Houthis. This factor has led to the rapid transformation of the Houthi movement into a strong armed resistance with the participation of Sa'dah tribes, who came to their rescue because of the genocide threat. Despite the broad information warfare against the Houthi, the new leader of the movement Sayid Abdul-Malik al-Houthi (who has replaced his brother killed in September 2004) strictly followed the defensive character of his struggle and gave no reasons to suspect him of promoting the Imamite tendencies or rebuilding monarchy in Yemen – the issues that were incriminated to the movement. Just the same, no facts of Iranian involvement in the conflict were found (except the condemnation of the military actions against local Zaydi population).

In 2009 before the beginning of the sixth act of war against the Houthi President Saleh completely renounced all the accusations connected with the “Iranian trace”. The sixth war could not have happened if not for the position of General Ali Mohsen and the Saudi funding, which became the first act of open involvement of Saudi Arabia in the Yemeni conflict on the side of governmental coalition. However, Saudi military have been captured by the Houthi and that has enabled the transition of the conflict into the settlement stage in January 2010.

The Sa'dah wars had a catastrophic influence on the economic and humanitarian situation on the North of Yemen. More than 200 thousand people were left without shelter (one third of Sa'dah province), about 10 thousand were dead and dozens of thousands people of all ages became angry on Saleh regime because they were oppressed by his security services. In 2013 President Hadi offered official apology to the Houthi for all the suffering caused by the unjust wars declared by the regime.

These wars have forged the military might of Ansar Allah, which relied on the effective and disciplined units with warlords in the head (so called militia), that were armed by the government issued weapons from Yemeni army and even from disarmed Saudi units. However, Sayid Abdul-Malik al-Houthi continuously stressed his allegiance to the peaceful conflict resolution and the exclusively defensive nature of his movement. The most important issues for him were the just compensation of the war damage and the guarantees of the equal rights for all the Yemeni religious groups in the country. By the end of the war the Houthis possessed a developed propaganda machine that included printed and on-line editions and also a satellite channel Al-Masira, where they showed all the crimes of the regime and condemned the actions of “Takfirites” against the unity of the Yemeni society.

The fourth stage of the Houthi movement began with Yemeni revolution in February 2011 when Sayid Abdul-Malik became the first from the opposition to declare a full support to the ideals of the revolution started by city youth, and expressed his intention to fully dismantle Saleh’s regime in order to carry out the democratic reforms. The revolution and the peace process within the framework of the international plan of GCC initiative that began soon after it have opened for Houthis the road to transform into a political organization. However, the sudden move of General Ali Mohsen with a significant part of Yemeni army to Islah side in March 2011 did not allow this. The Houthis have realized that it was too early to give away the captured weapons and preferred to remain a movement or as they are sometimes called a “Jamaat”, that was called Ansar Allah in 2013. The prospect of General Ali Mohsen’s arrival at power created a fatal danger for all the Zaydi part of the country, which is the third of all population.

So, the dormant conflict between the Houthis and Islah has revived on the wide front and entered the active phase, having widened geographically compared to the Sa'dah wars. However, the fate of this confrontation was decided in favor of the Houthis by Saleh, who has engaged into a real battle with Islah (including General Ali Mohsen), where the President Hadi did not play an important role. Saleh has decided to use the Houthi as a strike force to defeat Islah and thus facilitated his victories in February-September 2014. The contribution of Saleh to the Houthi’s victories consisted of two elements: a.) The establishment of strict neutrality of the army in the Houthi-Islah armed conflict, including when it left the borders of the “Houthi” territories, and b.) Contribution to the divide in coalition of Hashed tribes, the majority of which turned off their supreme leader, Sheik Sadyk Al-Ahmar (from Islah) and took a friendly position towards the Hothis, remembering about their Zaydi origins.

The successful change of the “agreement government” of Basindawaby Ansar Allah in Sana and the simultaneous signing of the the Peace and National Partnership Agreement between all the main parties and movements (including Islah) under the aegis of Benomar in September 2014  meant the change of leaders in the political process inside Yemen.  Islah has lost the ambitions of the main candidate for the power. The last undecided question about the integration of the Southern Movemen (al-Hirak) into the project of preservation of Yemeni unity was put on the agenda. The leaders of Ansar Allah have started paying their utmost attention to this question having launched intensive talks with al-Hirak on finding the compromise in the issue of the country’s federalization.

The causes of the grave deterioration of the political situation in Yemen that have led to the concerted voluntarily resignations of President Hadi and Prime Minister Bahah on the 22d of January 2015 should be examined particularly. I will just note that there were no signs of possible coup or breakdown of the mission of Special Councilor of UN Secretary General Benomar by the effort of the Houthis. After the resignation of Hadi Iran has shown its interest in the development of relations with Yemen in the conditions of its inability to borrow from traditional donors. But it is unlikely to become a true reason for the intervention.

Published in Tribune
Wednesday, 22 April 2015 03:07

Yemen: the motives of Saudi intervention

On the 26th of March 2015 Saudi Arabia launched a military intervention in Yemen under the codename Decisive Storm. Fortunately, all the nine countries that allied with Saudi Arabia still remain passive members of the coalition. Adel A. Al-Jubeir, the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia in the US, made the first official announcement about the intervention. Some experts have noted that this “Storm” has just overthrown the mission of the UN Security Council in Yemen that was launched as far back as in 2011. The war was declared just in three days after the resolution of the Security Council of 22 March 2015, which expressed the firm conviction of the Council that the solution of Yemeni problems can be fount only through a peaceful, inclusive and structured process by the effort of the Yemeni themselves (United Nations S/PRST/2015/8, p. 2/3).

The US military take part in the united staff, and the forces of the coalition are under the command of Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, the son of the King of Saudi Arabia and Minister of Defense. It is widely though that the results of war in Yemen will influence much the distribution of forces in the ruling dynasty. They also regard the war as a revenge for the defeats of Saudi military during the Saada wars in Yemen against the Hothis in 2004-1010, in which they secretly participated or were episodically involved for sure.

The invasion started by the request of the Yemeni President Hadi made on the 23d of March 2015. In his speech to Riyadh he asked to send rapid deployment forces “to offer the legitimate government of Yemen the required aid and to prevent a potential Houthi aggression against Aden city that was possible any time”. In the meantime Hadi asked to consider the situation in the country as a “coup” that was caused by the “pro-Iranian Houthis”.

 The oddity of such declaration hits the eye. During the last four years Yemen was under unprecedentedly close attention of the UN Security Council, which reacted to all the numerous movements within the country in a timely manner and in fact took care of the country all this time. The special counselor of the Secretary General of the UN Jamal Benomar has received a mandate to promote a peace plan created by Saudi Arabia (that turned troublesome though), and almost never left the country. The various participants of the extremely difficult process of peace settlement in Yemen were often criticized by the Security Council and they even violated the VII chapter of the UN Charter. This also refers to the Ansar Allah movement (the Houthis). The criticism by the Security Council in regard to the Yemeni peace settlement participants has become particularly harsh after the sudden victories gained by Ansar Allah over the pro-Saudi Salafiparty Al-Islah in September 2014. Then the framework of the new and sudden intrapolitical alliance between the Houthi and the block of ex-President Saleh who still controls the GPC - the leading party of the country, Parliament and the majority of the armed forces, has become evident. However the Security Council has not diagnosed a “coup”.

Till the beginning of the intervention there were ongoing peaceful inclusive negotiations in Sana under the aegis of the representative of the UN. What is more, in the period between the 22d of January and the 21st of February 2015 they were focused on the issue of the emergency filling of the vacuum of power that was created by the sudden simultaneous resignations of President Hadi and the Prime Minister Bahahon the 22d of January. The hopes that Hadi would revise his decision himself were so low that the Parliament did not even put his resignation upon approval! The President was left a right to determine his fate and this in fact allowed him to preserve his legitimacy after the 21st of February and after the move to Aden. But this happened in the same time when the Supreme revolutionary Council (SRC) and a number of other institutions of the half dead country were already created and when the parties of Sana dialogue have already prepared a package of  more fundamental  decisions to compensate for the resignations.

What was the real motivation for Hadi’s resignation? The answer to this question may throw a light on all the further chain of events. This was provoked by the active conflict of President Hadi with the leaders of Ansar Allah, that started on the 16th of January 2015, when the Houthis have blocked his attempts to launch a referendum on the project of a new constitution of Yemen without the right to make any amendments. In fact it was about a single statement that limited the number of the members of the federation that was being created. The Houthi have demanded a right to amend this statement, and the special councilor of the UN has finally recognized their right. The inflexible statement about the creation of six members of federation in Yemen could provoke new conflicts. The case is that the so-called “Hadi’s variant” adopted in February 2014 about six members, two of them on the South (Hadhramautand Aden) and four on the North (Al Janad, Tihamah, Azal and Saba) with a capital in Sana as a special federal district, has already caused much anxiety of the majority of the Yemeni political elites by its colossal separatist potential that can lead to the disintegration of the country into the rival fragments. But the most important thing is that this project was highly disapproved by the representatives of the South -  the Hirak. The “Hirak’s variant” renounced by Hadi supposed the creation of two iklims (regions) with wide autonomy rights in the geographic borders of The People's Democratic Republic of Yemen and Yemen Arab Republic of 1990. The same variant was supported be the YSP – the third most powerful party of the country.

An open discussion could ameliorate the known beforehand position of the South on such an important issue and decrease the separatist tendencies on the South. But it is not the only issue. While in the North the critics of “Hadi’s variant” stressed the inevitable increase of “regionalisms”, the South was sure that the project aims at the further divide of the ethnical and political unity in the South, that has emerged during the existence of PDRY, in order to open doors to the splitting “Hadhramaut” project in the interests of the Saudi Arabia, that was created as far back as in the 1960-ies.

Hadi’s move to Aden, unprecedented militarist rhetoric of the number of the Embassies towards the interim government that remained in Sana, were perceived by them as a signal about the transition to the practical realization of the splitting plans.

The situation has rapidly aggravated and put the country on the verge of civil war. Besides the tribal militias (lidjan al-Shaabi) the partisans of Hirak and the structures of Al-Qaeda turned out to be ready to oppose the alliance of Houthi with Saleh. But the tribal militias mobilized in Aden by president Hadi were mainly countered not by the Houthis, but by the regular units of Yemeni army and security forces loyal to Saleh. That is why the attacks of the new presidential coalition were aimed primarly on the military camps and armament warehouses on the South that represented the key to the defensive capabilities of the country. So, the movement of the Houthis to the South, along with the military reinforcements of Saleh, probably, should not be considered as their tactical mistake. Otherwise, the chance of capturing of the arsenals by Al-Qaeda could dramatically change the distribution of forces on the South and significantly increase the risks of a sectarian massacre on the much wider scale, ruining all the hopes of the Yemeni to create a civil and just country.

Published in Tribune

In the middle of the 9th century caliph al-Mutawakkil ‘Ala ’LLah arrived at power in Baghdad. He “has ordered to stop the contemplation and discussion of the disputable issues and to follow the orthodoxy and the religious customs … to follow the rules of Sunna and the communalism” (al-Mas‘udi, “Murudj al-Dhahab…”). Al-Mutawakkil did not like the Shia (Christians and Jews as well) and the philosophic debates. However his orthodoxy did not help him to answer the questions so disquieting for the society, and did not promise anything better. Meanwhile he himself was not ready to share his power. So the numbers of the Shia began to grow all over the Islamic world. Anti-Sunni riots broke out here and there; the preachers declared themselves Mahdi’s (Messiah’s), and the new Shia states started emerging on the shards of the Caliphate until Baghdad itself was captured by the Buwayhids Shia in the middle of the 10th century.

And now the traditionalists-mutawakkils, unable to answer the questions of the society, are also opposed by the Shia and the Salaphites. They all often use the religious discourse to arrive at power, imposing a confessional paradigm of the Middle Eastern reality to the international community and to the generations of successors.

Eventually, it is much more interesting to debate about the Shia, the Sunni or the Salaphites, then to speak about the real problems of the region.

The situation developing in Yemen now is a perfect illustration for such doublespeak.

Yemen was always something between a fragile and a failed state – during the quarter of century the conflicts followed each other with small pauses, changing their configuration and participants  - the North vs the South in the 1990ies, the Houthis vs Ali Saleh in the 2000ies and the activity of Al-Qaeda and other Jihadist groups as well.

It is evident that the permanent instability has several fundamental reasons. First of all, it is a low level of social and political modernization, which in fact means the absence of the civil society, personification of the political processes and the weakness of the civic identity. The latter is replaced by the regional identity (North-South), confessional (Sunni-Shia, moderate Shafi‘i – Wahhabi, etc) and the tribal ones. Another cause is the traditional importance of violence culture in the political life of the country, which is combined with the high level of militarization of the society (according to some sources – about 65 million units of weapons per 25 million of population). Finally, the lack of the resources plays its own role, making any fighting for power the one for the access to the resources.

All this represents the system factors that are in general typical of the region, though in Yemen they are expressed in the most extreme form and are strengthened by each other.

The protests of 2011 have lead first of all to the overthrow of Ali Abdullah Saleh regime and secondly to the beginning of the National Dialogue, that took place under the aegis of the UN and which was unanimously supported by the international community.

It should be mentioned that only three formulas of National Dialogue were proposed within the process of Arab awakening – the Tunisian, the Bahraini and the Yemeni ones. The first one did not suppose an international intervention: the dialogue was controlled by the civic institutions (trade unions, League for the Defense of Human Rights, etc.) and was successful enough. The Bahraini National Dialogue was managed by the authorities and an international commission under the head of Egyptian lawyer al-Basyuni was created to put it into practice, and it has elaborated a number of recommendations for the government. Not all of them were implemented, and by the autumn 2014 the Dialogue died out, when the opposition and the authorities clinched making mutually unacceptable demands. It will probably be restarted, but it is evident that it will not happen now.

Finally, in the Yemeni case the National Dialogue is much more complex than in Tunisia and Bahrain as there was no strong civic institutions and powerful central authorities able to conduct it. So, it turned into the strengthening of the Houthi (Zaidiyyah) organization Ansar Allah that occupied in the marginal positions of the political space of the country in 2011. In 2014 the Houthis have gained several important military victories by striking Al-Qaeda and taking Sana in September.

Examining exclusively the intra political component of the current crisis, it should be analyzed as a struggle between the elite groups for the access to the resources. Confessional, tribal, regional and ideological identity of the actors is an important factor of mobilization (and sometimes of organization) of the population, but in the majority of cases it does not suppose the existential confrontation (yet). In this response it is distinctive that both Zaidiyyah and Shafi'i law is based on the doctrine of imam as-Shafi‘i, that Ali Abdullah Saleh (Zaidiyyah himself) who was fighting the Houthis during all the 2000ies, now turned out to be their Ally, and that the newest history of the country has examples of completely unexpected alliances of ideological adversaries. (For example, the Party of the Common Session in 2002 that united the Sunni Islamist Al-Islah, Yemeni Socialist Party (the South) and Al-Haqq.

The only divide line that does not allow compromise decisions is between the Sunni Salafi-Jihadistes and the Houthis. In case of prolongation of the conflict the struggle between them may spread over all the political field of the country repeating the Syrian scenario.

 The regional context makes its adjustments as well. Of course the confrontation between the Houthis and the government is not equal to the Sunni-Shia divide in the Middle East and the Saudi-Iranian struggle that is behind it.

However, recently both Saudi Arabia and Iran have been trying to grow loyal forces within the country. In this response the approach between the religious practices of the Zaidiyyah with the Imamite rituals typical of Iran should be mentioned. The spread of the Wahhabi teaching among the partisans of Al-Islah party should be also considered.

Despite all that it is evident that for the both forces their own political interests are more important than the interests of their external patrons. Indeed, treating the Houthis exclusively as Iranian agents seems unreasonable. In case of arrival at power the Houthis would have to consider Yemen’s dependence on Saudi Arabia and respect the traditions of neighbor relations. However, they would most likely attempt to diversify the external contacts of the country and probably use their connections with Iran to impose pressure on Riyadh and strengthen at least their own sovereignty if not the national one.

On the other hand the fears of Saudi Arabia that Iran attempts to create a Shia circle around the Kingdom (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen) and to use the Shia factor to destabilize the situation inside it, are also understandable and should be respected. The Houthis would play an essential role as the majority of Saudi Shia tribes are related to them.

The harsh and seemingly rather ill conceived reaction of the Kingdom to the military success of the Houthis is explained just by these fears.

The military operation in Yemen proclaimed by the Saudi has questionable legitimacy (the UN Security Council is continuously advocating the peaceful settlement) and its aims are not completely clear. Probably, the main goal is to physically eliminate the Houthi leaders, weaken the Zaidiyyah movement and then to relaunch the National Dialogue in some form. However, all the experience of the last years shows that the transition to the peaceful political transformation is extremely difficult after a military intervention that leads to the severe weakening of the government institutions (they are already fragile in Yemen), and all the more so when there is no clear project of such transformation.

In theory, if the pragmatic approaches to the situation prevail it will be possible to speak about the federalization of Yemen, let alone that federalization has become a common recipe proposed by the Western experts to the countries of the region (Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen). However, taking into consideration the failed institutions of the central power, the fragmentation of the society and other factors, the federalization in fact becomes a way to divide the power between the elites (as in Iraq), and that can for sure easily lead to the destruction of the nationhood as such, and once again to the fragmentation of Yemen.

If the Houthi will see their destruction as the main goal of Saudi Arabia, it will no longer be about the struggle for power but about their survival. That can lead, firstly, to long guerilla warfare that will make the National Dialogue useless, secondly, to open involvement of Iran in the conflict, which will be forced to protect the Zaidiyyah, and, thirdly, to the Huouthi’s attempts to launch a counter attack against the Kingdom using the tribes relative to them that live on Saudi territory.

In case of the most dramatic scenario the events may provoke a direct Saudi–Iranian military conflict that can only lead to the victory of the forces close to the Islamic State.

The increase of the integration trends in the Arab world may become another consequence of the operation declared by Saudi Arabia – first of all within Gulf Cooperation Council which demonstrates its ability to resist common threats already for the second time (the first one was in Bahrain in 2011), and within the League of Arab States, which has proclaimed the creation of the common military units, as well.

The integration of such kind is frankly speaking a bit uncommon for the international community and could create a basis for the gradual stabilization of the Middle Eastern region, placing the issue of the regional system of security on the agenda – a critical issue, taking into consideration the Jihadist threat.

However, it is still too far from realization of such projects, moreover they have a number of obvious limitations. Firstly, it is the anti-Iranian vector of the cooperation. Remember, when a quarter of a century ago the regional system of security was discussed for the last time, Israel was a stumbling block and any regional interaction was senseless without it. Now Iran will become such block. Meanwhile, there is an evident threat for all the regional players – the Jihadist structures. Secondly, it is a traditional mistrust, rivalry between the Arab states and sometimes the different vectors of their interests. For example, it is difficult to imagine the exchange of intelligence data between Algeria and Morocco. Finally, it is the inequality of the players. The formula that is proposed today is based on the Saudi-Egyptian tandem – happy union of human and military potential of Egypt and the financial (and partially the ideological) one of Saudi Arabia. However, no one can guarantee that it will last long.

If to consider the current situation on the global level, the declared operation has not just become yet another evidence of weakening of the international relations institutes and of independence of local actors, that are ready to take fateful decisions without any evident support from global players. It is much more important that it has shown the unpreparedness of those so-called players to effectively influence the situation. That could pass, but there is no guarantee that the regional powers are able to resolve their problems by themselves – they have got used to relying on the world hegemons too much, and it is very unlikely that they completely realize the responsibility of the leadership.

Published in Tribune
Wednesday, 15 April 2015 22:32

ISIS takes its fight to Russia’s backyard

More and more terrorist groups swear allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the international attempts to bring down ISIS seem in vain.

The strongest extremist organization gains the terrain, both on the ground of Syria and Iraq and in the minds of people far from the Syrian and Iraqi borders. ISIS challenges the Security Services all over the world, as the way it spreads is extremely difficult to be cut and controlled.

ISIS spreads primarily through the Internet, using it as a sophisticated instrument of propaganda, recruiting and expanding, along with personal contacts of its recruiters. Spreading over the net, they create cells as metastases, far from the Syrian and Iraqi borders – in Nigeria, in Libya, in Yemen, in Afghanistan, in Algeria, in Tunisia and others. The list is already long and is becoming longer.

The alarming message has come from a Russian senior security official after a session of the SCO’s regional anti-terror body, saying that some warlords of the prohibited Emirate of Caucasus have pledged their allegiance to ISIS. This trend challenges not only Russia, over 1700 citizens of which have joined ISIS, and who fight in Syria and Iraq (this figure is an estimate, the real numbers could be higher still), but for the whole Caucasus region and the neighbouring countries.

To read the whole article: http://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2015/04/14/ISIS-takes-its-fight-to-Russia-s-backyard.html

Published in Tribune
Sunday, 12 April 2015 19:47

Iran in Yemen?

US Secretary of State John Kerry said recently Iran is “obviously” aiding the Houthi uprising in Yemen. According to Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, "Iran provides financial support for the Houthis and helps them in building weapon factories and providing them with weapons.”[1] "There are 5,000 Iranians, Hezbollah and Iraqi militia on the ground in Yemen," an unnamed diplomatic official in the Gulf is reported as saying.[2] The Editor-in-Chief of the Arab Times of Kuwait calls the Houthis Iran’s “dummy”[3] and “tools” of Iran and Hezbollah.[4] In Britain, “The Telegraph” writes of “the Iranian-backed takeover of Northern Yemen”[5]

Sergei Serebrov, of the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, noted that the Telegraph’s claim would be unarguably true had it been followed by the qualification “11 centuries ago.”[6] And he is far from the only observer skeptical that Iran stands behind the Houthi eruption in Yemen. Wikileaks documents analyzed on the Al-Bab website indicate the US was not convinced by the Yemeni government’s repeated claims of Iranian involvement in a series of conflicts with the Houthis over the last decade[7] — claims made by the regime of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is now allied with the Houthis (and who in 2011 found refuge in Saudi Arabia, the country now assaulting his forces from the skies). The US Embassy in Yemen, according to a leaked 2009 memo, was more concerned with the interference of Saudi Arabia and other gulf states, which it feared might make Iranian alleged involvement a self-fulfilling prophecy:

 

… we can think of few ways to more effectively encourage Iranian meddling in the Houthi rebellion than to have all of Yemen's Sunni neighbors line up to finance and outfit Ali Abdullah Saleh's self-described ‘Operation Scorched Earth’ against his country's Shia minority.[8]

 

Now, with a fragile Iran-US détente underway and sanctions a step closer to ending, Iran would be risking much more by stepping into the Yemen imbroglio than it would have in 2009. Why unnecessarily antagonize the US and jeopardize the longed-for sanctions breakout for a prize of such questionable practical value? Or for that matter, why antagonize Saudi Arabia? While it’s a widely accepted truth that Iran will get up to any mischief it possibly can against the Saudis, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made a point of calling for a mending of relations with the Kingdom soon after his election. The US National Intelligence’s annual security assessment in February also noted that Iran was still seeking to “deescalate tensions with Saudi Arabia.”[9]

Iranian involvement in Syria and Lebanon is already a serious drain on the limited resources of an economy shackled by sanctions. From the Iranian security perspective, those countries are strategically crucial, a buffer between itself and Israel. Not only is Yemen not a buffer against a perceived threat, but its devastating poverty makes it an expensive proposition. A Houthi government under Iranian auspices would require massive financial support. What would be the motive? To reestablish the Persian Empire, the rationale repeatedly put forth the Saleh administration for alleged Iranian meddling in Yemen, according to Wikileaks? Rhetoric aside, behind the scenes the Americans were not convinced.

The smart play for Iran at this critical juncture is not to rock the boat unnecessarily, which corresponds to its official line: a denial that it provides military support to the Houthis coupled with vociferous condemnations of the bombing campaign and calls for all the warring parties to come to the negotiating table.

Whatever external factors are exacerbating the conflict in Yemen, the main spark is internal, and as related to the country’s economic problems as it is to the much-trumpeted Shia-Sunni conflict. Yemen is one of the poorest Arab countries, with 50% of the population below the poverty level, despite potentially lucrative fishing and some oil. The recent Saudi withholding of funds from a promised bailout package and the sabotage of oil pipelines and electricity infrastructure in the Mareb Province of Yemen have only compounded economic woes. When President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s government abolished energy subsidies last summer, causing a spike in the price of gasoline, the result was protests in the streets with the army called in to put them down. Social unrest is common, and the populace has arms and knows how to use them – some say guns far outnumber people in Yemen. Even in peaceful times, Sana’a has the feel of a Wild West town: men strolling the streets or sitting in cafes with their “ali” (AK-47) and pickups zooming by with mounted chain machine guns.

Yet Sana’a was taken by the Houthis without much of a fight. That and their dramatic advance to Aden owes much to a formidable domestic ally, former Yemeni president Saleh, ousted in Yemen’s “Arab Spring” but still commanding a great deal of loyalty in the government and military. He is a wily political survivor who has switched sides more than once in the past, this time making an advantageous alliance with his former foes. It was Saleh’s regime killed Al-Houthi, founder of the movement.

Trade and economic ties between Iran and Yemen were weak under former president Saleh; and under President Hadi they had been all but shut down. But with Hadi fleeing to Aden and the Houthis essentially taking control of the government in February, preliminary agreements were signed between Yemen and Iran on reconstructing the port of Al Hudaydah on the Red Sea and establishing regular direct Iran-Yemen passenger flights. And no wonder, with all other outside funding cut off or on hold. Apparently, the prospect of this deal too much for the Saudis and their allies. Accusations followed immediately that the flights were for military supplies from Iran, and soon after that, the bombs began coming down.

The Zaydiyyah Shia branch in Yemen, to whom the Houthis belong, differs in many ways from the Ja’fari Islam of Iran, and is similar in many ways to Sunni Islam. The two Shia schools do, however, share the concept of the Imamate, as distinct from the Sunni; and ideological resonance seems to have been increasing in recent decades. The Zaydi imamate ruled from 897 to 1962, its territory expanding and contracting, but the heartland always remaining in the mountainous northwest of Yemen, where the Houthis are now based. Like the Zaydis, Ja’faris and all Shia sects, the Houthis come into being as a force of opposition to the powers that be, in the 1990s. The founder of the Houthi movement, also known as “Ansar Allah,” was Said Hossein Al-Houthi, a Yemeni parliamentarian of aristocratic heritage and a religious education from Sa’ada, that same mountainous Zaydi heartland in the north of Yemen, bordering on Saudi Arabia. His family enjoys great respect among the tribes there, and in Yemen, tribal alliances are everything. Al-Houthi came into conflict with former president Saleh in the early 2000s. In addition to defending the interests and culture of the Zaydi minority against what he saw as an encroaching Salafi presence backed by Saleh, Al-Houthi decried Yemen’s alliance with and reliance on the US and Saudi Arabia. After increasingly tense clashes with the government, he was killed in 2004. His brothers, primarily Abdul Malik, now lead the movement, which has also made battling corruption a centerpiece of its rhetoric. Despite the Houthis’ “Death to America” chants and placards, some Yemenis’ believe that the Americans may not have been opposed, at least early on, to the Houthis’ growing power as a counterbalance to the greater evil of Al-Qaeda and other extremist Sunni groups in Yemen. Just to further muddy the waters….

 



[1] http://news.yahoo.com/far-does-irans-backing-yemen-rebels-220527393.html;_ylt=AwrBT8A11CdV0vIArn1XNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTEzOGJjZG5lBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDVklQNjE5XzEEc2VjA3Nj

[2] http://news.yahoo.com/far-does-irans-backing-yemen-rebels-220527393.html;_ylt=AwrBT8A11CdV0vIArn1XNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTEzOGJjZG5lBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDVklQNjE5XzEEc2VjA3Nj

[3]http://www.arabtimesonline.com/NewsDetails/tabid/96/smid/414/ArticleID/212500/reftab/96/t/Rouhani-just-chill/Default.aspx

[4]http://www.arabtimesonline.com/NewsDetails/tabid/96/smid/414/ArticleID/212668/reftab/96/Default.aspx

[5] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/yemen/11487796/Yemen-is-a-battlefield-for-Saudi-Arabia-and-Iran.html

[6] http://echo.msk.ru/programs/sorokina/1521146-echo/

[7] http://www.al-bab.com/blog/2015/april/yemen-us-houthis.htm#sthash.uo83wn9T.u7sQ9zTs.dpbs

[8] ibid.

[9] http://www.newsweek.com/iran-and-hezbollah-omitted-us-terror-threat-list-amid-nuclear-talks-314073

Published in Tribune

The crisis in Yemen could well turn extremely tragic. Making overall predictions is difficult because how the situation develops will depend on how certain players behave, and we aren’t privy to their intentions. I do think, however, that the Saudis and their coalition partners have made a mistake with aerial bombardments. It’s simply inconceivable that such a destructive approach — particularly in an already impoverished country — could provide any resolution.

The Houthis’ objectives seem clear enough: They want to get their share of the distribution of power and resources and are not at all, in my opinion, trying to establish full control over the whole country. I think they understand that simply won’t happen. It looks as if they are using military force to secure strong starting positions for the inevitable subsequent negotiations — in order to get their piece of the pie. But do they understand that the assault on the southern part of the country, where they are perceived as outsiders, involves great dangers for them? Here they also seem to have made a mistake, miscalculated. They shouldn’t have meddled in Aden and the southern provinces. They are doing it under the pretext of striking at the Islamist radicals, at Al-Qaeda, based in the south; but the reality is that they will end up pushing the local population toward Al-Qaeda as a powerful force able to resist the onslaught of the Houthis. There was no point in the advance. They should have been satisfied dominating the northern part of the country, having expelled their longtime enemies, the Salafis. Then they could have dictated their own terms during negotiations with a better chance of achieving their political and economic demands.

Yet if we look at the opposing coalition, it’s not remotely clear what it wants. To destroy the huge portion of the population that supports the Houthis? That’s impossible. What, will they just keep on killing people without end? Do they want to completely destroy the infrastructure of the country? It’s incomprehensible what this could do for them. Do they want to force the Houthis to surrender? To lay down their arms? To say: Let Hadi return; let him imprison, hang or shoot us instigators while everyone else can live long and happy lives? What is it they want? Do they want to deploy ground forces to force the Houthis back to where they’ve always lived, to the north, and to secure some strategic spots in which to place people connected to Hadi’s administration? But it doesn’t seem as if anybody is preparing for a ground war — which would be a bloodbath. So the goals of these people simply aren’t wholly evident. Even if foreign boots were committed on the ground, it’s quite likely that Yemeni Shia and Sunni would unite against the outsiders. That’s already happened, in the 1960s, when Egypt supported the revolution of 1962 and sent forces into Yemen. Over the course of a few years, Egypt lost almost 26,000 lives — losses much greater than those of the USSR in Afghanistan — even though Yemen is a small country and the Egyptians did not have a large contingent. Today the very same story can be repeated anywhere. The coalition is quite aware of this, and no one is burning with desire to fight in the mountains of Yemen — especially when it’s not even clear whom to fight. But even if we assume the coalition forces could break the Houthis and push them back North: Who, then, would take their place?

Incidentally, I told my Egyptian friends: “You’ve taken your place under the Saudis’ banner. You want to defeat the Shia. You are afraid they might supposedly gain control of the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait and interfere with maritime traffic through the channel. That is unlikely: They’ve never set themselves such a goal and couldn’t if they tried. It’s another impossibility. They are well aware that they would run into big trouble. But still, let’s say you disperse them. Who will come to power? The very people you consider your enemies: the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic bloc Al-Islah[a1]  (the same Brotherhood), or even Al-Qaeda or related groups. In other words, a Salafi alliance will rise up and govern the country; you’ll get a country ruled by your enemies. You’re thinking that Iran is calling the shots in Yemen now, or afraid it will in the future. But what you’ll get instead is those you consider your enemies in power. It’s obvious that the fruit of your labors will be much worse for you.” This military, interventionist approach, recalling the Libya playbook of internal conflict resolution, is another dead-end in a fragmented and heterogeneous country like Yemen, with one possible outcome being the division of the country. I do not rule out the partition of Yemen, with the most likely split between North and South; although even further fragmentation is possible. Perhaps this is what the enemies of Yemen want. A worst-case scenario would involve a bid for Hadhramaut to secede, a region with historical ties to Saudi Arabia and one which is drawn to it: There are tribes continually crisscrossing the border with a vested interest in keeping it open. It’s not impossible that the tribal and trade elite in this region would like to place Hadhramaut under Saudi control. If utter mayhem ensues, Al-Qaeda could proclaim a state there. People are afraid to fight them, so they don’t strike Al-Qaeda but strike the Houthis.

A degeneration into complete chaos is not beyond the realm of possibilities — something along the lines of the current situation in Libya, with roving tribes, gangs and fighters killing each other, plundering and destroying. At that point it will be senseless to talk about restoring the country. This is not Libya; it is a comparatively large country with about 26 million people and a large, inaccessible, mountainous territory. It is filled with a whole lot of weapons. It is situated at a strategic trading crossroads. The situation is very alarming. And the only road to a settlement is peace talks, peace talks with the participation of the Houthis. But apparently Saudi Arabia does not want the Houthis to participate, although at some point early on the Saudis themselves proposed such negotiations. To sum up, I fear that for now there is little reason for optimism.

The commentary was taken on the 3rd of April, 2015
by the IMESClub President Maria Dubovikova

Published in Commentaries

Syria 

We will start by re-establishing relations on a consular level or with a charge d'affaires. <...> They will be restored in a progressive manner. <...> We do not believe that our interests are served by cutting off relations with Syria. <...> We will not have an ambassador there, but Tunisia will open a consulate or put in place a charge d'affaires, and a Syria ambassador is welcome to Tunisia, if Syria wishes so. 

– Taieb Baccouche, Tunisia's Foreign Minister

 

The situation in Yarmouk is an affront to the humanity of all of us, a source of universal shame.<...> Yarmouk is a test, a challenge for the international community. We must not fail. The credibility of the international system itself is at stake

– Chris Gunness, U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) spokesman 

We won't get to a political transition without slowly giving and taking. 

– Randa Kassis, President of the Movement for a Pluralistic Society  

We'll see what the government delegation comes up with, including on the humanitarian front, but I am not hopeful for anything special. It'll be more of a continuation of dialogue at best.

– Anonymous Syrian opposition representative

 

Yemen 

Medical supplies need to be here yesterday. The situation is difficult.<...> We need to save the lives that can be saved.

– Marie-Claire Feghali, a spokeswoman for the ICRC

For the wounded, their chances of survival depend on action within hours, not days.

– Robert Mardini, head of the ICRC's operations in the Near and Middle East

All air, land and sea routes must be opened without delay for at least 24 hours to enable help to reach people cut off after more than a week of intense air strikes and fierce ground fighting nationwide.

– The ICRC statement

There is little point in putting an embargo on the whole country. It doesn’t make sense to punish everybody else for the behavior of one party that has been the aggressor in this situation.

– Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, Saudi Arabia’s representative to the UN 

We still stand by our position on dialogue and we demand its continuation despite everything that has happened, on the basis of respect and acknowledging the other. <...> We have no conditions except a halt to the aggression and sitting on the dialogue table within a specific time period <...> and any international or regional parties that have no aggressive positions towards the Yemeni people can oversee the dialogue.

– Saleh Ali al-Sammad, senior political figure of the Houthi movement.

We got to this position because the Houthis, over and over again, violated cease-fires, took military action, took action by force instead of engaging in a genuine way in political talks. <...> The only way out of this crisis is through a return to genuine political talks on an equal basis, and not using force.

– Peter Wilson, Britain's deputy U.N. ambassador

Throughout the Yemeni national dialogue, which lasted a year during which I served as a rapporteur on the military committee, the Houthis tried to convince us in the south that we were victims of injustice within the framework of unification. Yet now they come to us as belligerent occupiers.

General Nasser Al-Tawil, spokesman for the Retired Servicemen’s Front in Aden

 

Iran

A better deal would roll back Iran’s vast nuclear infrastructure, and require Iran to stop its aggression in the region, its terror worldwide and its calls and actions to annihilate the state of Israel. That’s a better deal. It’s achievable.

– Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister

Do you really think that this verifiable deal, if fully implemented, backed by the world's major powers, is a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East?

– Barak Obama, United States President 

Iran needs cash and will not agree to hold back as part of an OPEC [oil] supply–reduction deal. <...> While a deal with Iran regarding its nuclear program will open up the country's energy sector for investment and eventually lead not only to a restoration of the 1 million barrels of daily output lost since sanctions were tightened against Tehran, but will also lead to a longer-term rise in both oil and gas output. 

– Chris Weafer, the founding partner of Macro Advisory

If the (final) agreement is signed in June, Russia will be the loser. Now, Iran will be more inclined toward the West. For Russia, that’s a problem.

–  Alexey Malashenko, an analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center 

Moscow looks at its role in the Iran talks not so much in its own terms but in how it can play into issues of more central interest to itself. <...> The West is forced to recognize Moscow's status as a global power; Iran can feel it has been a good ally; and other current or potential Russian allies can be reassured.

– Mark Galeotti, Professor of global affairs at New York University

 

Tweets of the week

Published in Weeks-in-Quotes

The escalation of the crisis in Yemen was predictable and inevitable - as long as the inevitability of the outbreak of violence was obvious long before the current historical moment.

The complexities of Yemen, from local cultural differences, to the bigger problems of terrorism, in the backyard of Saudi Arabia, combined with its important strategic location for world trade, all factor in the country’s volatile situation and potential to erupt and fall into complete collapse.

What is frightening, is that what we witness now, most likely, is just the beginning of what we should expect to come next - some kind of a prelude to the catastrophe. And Yemeni civil war is not the worst scenario.

Saudi Arabia’s reaction following recent developments inside Yemen was understandable.

To prevent the Iran-backed Houthis from gaining control over the country was a matter of strategic importance and of national interest to Saudi Arabia. To prevent the Iran-backed Houthis from gaining control over the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait was a matter of strategic importance and interest for most regional and global powers.

Yemen was unlucky to become the battlefield of Saudi Arabia and Iran for influence.

To read the whole article: http://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2015/04/01/Can-Russia-remain-everyone-s-friend-in-the-region-.html

Published in Tribune
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