Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1240, (2 - 8 April 2015)
Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Issue 1240, (2 - 8 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Storm of resolve

Arab coalition forces fighting the Houthi rebels in Yemen will continue operations until the restoration of government authority in the country, writes Ahmed Eleiba

special
special
Al-Ahram Weekly

The Saudi-led military operations against the Houthi militias in Yemen and the Yemeni army forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh continued this week with no time set for their conclusion. Nor has there been a definitive indication of the next steps in the aerial offensives and joint naval manoeuvres being undertaken by the Saudi western fleet and Egyptian naval forces.

Will the next steps be political ones, or will there be a ground offensive? Judging by statements by the officials in charge of the operations at the security and political levels and by observations of developments on the ground, the latter course seems the most likely.

Brigadier-general Ahmed Al-Asiri, an advisor to the Saudi defence minister and official spokesman for Operation Storm of Resolve, said at a press conference on Sunday that the campaign would continue to press the Houthi militias until the internationally recognised Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi was restored to power.

The Saudi-led coalition “will determine the conditions necessary to enable the president and his government to administer their country. It will continue the operations until conditions are conducive to restoring the army’s control over the country,” Al-Asiri said.

His remarks mesh with the substance of an interview with Yemeni Foreign Minister Riyad Yassin, who said “we are now engaged in a military operation that will impose a new military reality. The rest remains to be seen once it achieves its results.” The aims of the campaign were “to restore Hadi to power and send the Houthis back to where they came from,” he said.

The coalition involved in Operation Storm of Resolve began with ten partners: Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan and Pakistan. Pakistan’s presence in this group is an anomaly in a coalition carrying the label “Arab,” but the operation coincides with joint military exercises carried out in danger zones.

It is also interesting that Sudan has come on board, as Khartoum’s political calculations have seemed to favour good relations with Iran.

Oman is noticeable for its absence from the coalition. A source close to Omani diplomatic circles said “it has always been the approach of Omani policy not to get involved in military alliances or operations abroad and instead to promote international diplomatic dialogue.”

“Such dialogue offers Oman the scope to negotiate with the parties to the conflict in the future, if that becomes possible. There are certain balances on which Omani foreign policy is based. The country has relations with Iran and is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council. It would like to maintain a balance between the two,” the source said.

According to Sudanese political expert Al-Mahboub Abdel-Salam speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly from Khartoum, “in this operation Sudan has returned to the Arab ranks in its foreign policy. After having leaned towards Iran, it has now disengaged itself from that connection and engaged fully in its relations with the countries of the coalition, Saudi Arabia above all.”

He added that improved relations with the Arab parties should be reflected domestically in Sudan, “otherwise it will meet the same fate as the other failed states in the region.”

Operation Storm of Resolve was launched on the basis of clearly defined objectives enumerated by Al-Asiri. These are to destroy the Houthi missiles, air defences and ammunitions storehouses, to cut off supply lines and to target build-ups of Houthi forces or of forces loyal to former president Saleh.

He noted that in addition to stationary targets such as camps, military airports or command and control centres, work was also underway to target mobile ones, whether mobile missiles or vehicles used to transport soldiers.

On the first day of the aerial strikes, the coalition focused on 20 targets, including the presidential palace in Sanaa, the Sanaa military airport, the Dailemi military base, the military academy, the Jaraf region where the Houthi movement is based, the military police headquarters, the special forces headquarters and the Al-Sawad camp.

Other targets included the former premises of the first armoured division, camps in the Nabi Shoeib Mountains, aircraft and repair hangars for the second airforce division, the central radar station, the Adhran air defence site, Saada and Hodeida airports, and the sixth military zone command.

In naval operations, the Saudi Western Fleet deployed along the coast off Yemen’s western ports, including Midi and Hodeida. It was joined by four Egyptian navy vessels, thereby tightening the ring around the coastal area and ports that the Houthi militias had controlled for five months.

There are eight major air defence bases in Yemen. The Dailemi airbase in Sanaa and the Hodeida airbase are under Houthi control. The Makalla and Riyan bases in Hadramawt remain outside the control of the Houthis and Saleh’s forces, while two other bases have been targeted as part of the theatre of operations: the Ataq base in Shabwa and the Taiz airbase, both of which had fallen under Houthi control.

Two other airbases have also been drawn into the theatre of operations: the Al-Anad airbase, Yemen’s largest, which is located in the Lahj governorate, and the Aden airbase.

Saudi Arabia has contributed the largest number of military aircraft to the coalition aerial offensives, providing 100 out of the 185 aircraft involved, mostly F-15s, F-16s and F-18s. The UAE has contributed 30 fighters, Kuwait and Bahrain 15 each, Qatar 10, Jordan and Morocco six each, and Sudan three.

Al-Asiri acknowledged that the operations had met certain difficulties, one of them being that the Houthis station missiles in urban areas. According to a source speaking to the Weekly from Sanaa, Houthi militias had removed a large number of missiles from Atan, a military camp in the vicinity of Sanaa that was targeted on the first day of the operations, and possibly transported them to Dhamar University.

The coalition command announced that some of the missiles had been relocated to a Houthi camp near the border with Saudi Arabia and that this camp had been bombed. It is still collecting intelligence on the whereabouts of the remaining missiles so as to minimise losses.

Iran, pointed to by coalition partners as the power behind the Houthis, has removed its forces from the vicinity of the naval operations. According to the official Iranian news agency, citing Mohamed Reza Ahmadi, commander of Iran’s 33rd naval regiment, Iranian naval vessels left the port of Bandar Abbas in late January for operations in the Indian Ocean and were now on their way back to Iran after 70 days at sea.

Analysts believe that Iran fears direct engagement with Arab coalition forces in the Red Sea or Arabian Gulf. Speaking to the Weekly from Taiz, Abdel-Aziz Al-Majidi, an expert on Yemeni affairs, said that Egyptian naval forces were in full control of the Bab Al-Mandab Straits, while Saudi Arabia had imposed a no-fly zone over the area.

It would be extremely difficult for Iran to open supply lines to the Houthis as a result, he said, and thus far it had failed.

The source added that fierce naval battles now centred around Mokha Island, where the 17th naval regiment loyal to Saleh and the Houthis had obtained support from the 10th division that had sailed down from Hodeida in a bid to seize control of the Straits. The coalition naval forces had succeeded in obstructing such attempts, while taking out an enemy missile brigade in the same location, he said.

All military sites on the ground are focal points for military activity. However, the Houthi militias and former president Saleh’s forces have been moving troops, missiles and equipment from their original locations to other positions. The US command in the Gulf has been furnishing the coalition command with satellite data and other intelligence in the light of these movements.

add comment

  
 
 
  • follow us on