Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1246, (14 - 20 May 2015)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1246, (14 - 20 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Stepping on the gas

Operation Decisive Storm continues to be wracked by contradictions, with little clear on the ground, writes Medhat Al-Zahed

Al-Ahram Weekly

The war in Yemen is like a drunk driver. He signals right and veers left. Approaching a stoplight, he slams on the gas instead of the brakes. He sees a sign near a hospital saying, “Quiet please,” and starts blaring the car horn. Then he goes barrelling the wrong way down a one-way street.

The command of Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen appears to follow this logic. It calls a halt to the assault only to unleash fiercer bombardments. While John Kerry is in town in Riyadh, the command declares a five-day “humanitarian truce” to let in humanitarian relief, food and medicine, during which the Saudi-led coalition aircraft pound Saada, the Houthi stronghold, and then Sanaa. Then the military spokesman for this coalition starts to talk of military targets in an operation to “restore hope”!

Hope is in little supply in Yemen where the curse of war has spared no one. Meanwhile, there are mounting divergences between Riyadh, Dubai, Sanaa and Cairo over answers to the how and when of war and peace.

Such difficulties extend further afield. One day the Saudi leadership heaps compliments on the US administration. The next an announcement comes from Riyadh that King Salman has changed his mind about attending the Camp David meeting together with other Gulf states, which also reduced the level of their attendance in that meeting held starting Tuesday. Observers took this to signal tensions between Washington and Riyadh, the latter being displeased with the US-Iranian nuclear accord and the US position on Yemen, which is to urge a truce while the Saudi coalition command is looking to enhance the storm. The official reason cited for the king’s decision not to fly to the US was that he wanted to remain home in order to personally supervise the humanitarian truce and reconstruction of Yemen.

Contradictions never cease. Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, from his refuge in Riyadh, issues instructions to a collapsed authority in Sanaa as though he actually expects to be heard and obeyed. On Saturday, from the Saudi capital, he announced the dismissal of a number of Yemeni security officials among whom were Assistant Inspector General of the Interior Ministry Major Abdel-Karim Al-Damashqi, Head of Special Forces Operations Major Nasser Mohsen Al-Shodhabi and Police Commissioner of Sanaa Major Abdel-Razeq Al-Muayyid. According to the text of the Yemeni president’s decrees, these individuals were negligent in the performance of their security and national duties and would be referred to military trial.

In tandem with the abovementioned developments on the Saudi side there were three developments on the Yemeni side. Firstly, the Houthis announced that they agreed to the truce on the condition that the Saudis abided by it. Secondly, missiles were launched from Yemeni border areas into the Saudi city of Nejran causing a number of deaths and injuries and prompting the evacuation of neighbouring villages and the closure of schools. Thirdly, in the first time since the outbreak of the war, a Moroccan plane from among the coalition aircraft was downed over Yemeni territory.

DIPLOMATIC DEVELOPMENTS: The most important development to date diplomatically is Kerry’s visit to Riyadh, which emphasised the US administration’s eagerness to promote a diplomatic solution to the Yemeni crisis and which occasioned the declaration of a five-day truce. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jobeir announced the five-day ceasefire initiative in order to allow relief organisations to deliver food and medical assistance on the condition that the Houthis and the allies respect the ceasefire. In a joint press conference held with his US counterpart at the Riyadh air force base, Al-Jobeir said that the ceasefire grace period had not been discussed with the Houthis. He acknowledged that humanitarian relief dropped from the air was insufficient. He added: “We will see if the Houthis agree. It is clear that their sole concern is to seize power.”

According to Al-Jobeir, the Iranian nuclear question was among the main issues that the US discussed with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Naif and Deputy Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman. As for his own discussions with the US secretary of state in Camp David, the Saudi foreign minister said that they addressed “the steps that need to be taken to halt Iranian negative interventions in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.”

Al-Jobeir stressed that his government was keen to ensure that the political process in Yemen to resolve the crisis would be peaceful. He noted that participants in the Yemeni national dialogue, which is to be held on 17 May, would discuss the recent UN Security Council resolutions on Yemen, and the Gulf initiative.

The US secretary of state, in that press conference, stated that in his meeting with Saudi leaders, which was attended by important members of the Saudi national security team, discussion revolved around the threats that Saudi Arabia faces in Yemen. He went on to laud Riyadh’s decisions in support of a peaceful solution and humanitarian support, while he blamed Houthi intransigence for perpetuating the crisis. He stressed that the US and Saudi Arabia did not discuss sending ground forces into Yemen.

Kerry welcomed Saudi Arabia’s five-day ceasefire initiative for humanitarian purposes. He stressed that this period should not be exploited by any party to attain military gains and noted that the ceasefire was also contingent on the Houthi acceptance of it. “We strongly urge the Houthis and their supporters not to forego this opportunity,” Kerry said.

On the Iranian question, the secretary of state said that his country was disturbed by Iranian actions to upset the security situation in the region and this reinforced the US’s complete determination to not allow Iran to possess a nuclear weapon. He also stressed that security of the Gulf was one of the US’s top priorities and that cooperation in this regard was moving forward.

Kerry also revealed some measures that should be taken to halt Iranian interventions in the region. They included stepping up naval precautions and preventing activities that violate international criteria and UN resolutions. These steps would be discussed at the forthcoming Camp David summit, he said, stressing that his country would be clear in its stance against any nation that intervenes in the domestic affairs of another nation, and thereby constituting a threat to international security. He observed that this applied to the activities of Iran.

MILITARY DEVELOPMENTS: Militarily, the most salient developments are the massive bombardment of Houthi areas in Saada followed by the destruction of Ali Abdullah Saleh’s presidential palace in Sanaa, which occurred after the Houthis fired missiles into the Saudi cities of Nejran and Jizan. Brigadier General Ahmed Bin Hassan Asiri has stated that coalition forces struck more than 100 targets in Saada, Maran and the border strip after the evacuation deadline that the coalition command had issued to the residents in these areas had lapsed. The military spokesman added that the military response to Houthi fire has continued around the clock and is still in progress as additional targets in Saada are identified.

According to Asiri, the purpose of Operation Restoration of Hope is to prevent the movements of Houthi militias on the ground, to protect Yemeni civilians and to support and perpetuate humanitarian relief activities. He noted that the recent targeting of Saudi cities had added a new dimension to the operations. Parallel to the coalition forces operations in support of Restoration of Hope, there was now a retaliation campaign being undertaken by Saudi forces and the coalition against those responsible for the attack on the cities of Nejran and Jizan.

Asiri said that prior to the aerial operations undertaken by coalition forces, civilians in Saada and Maran were warned to evacuate these cities to ensure their safety. He then expressed his deep regret that the Houthi militias prevented civilians from evacuating the cities by erecting checkpoints and controlling petrol stations. This was so that the Houthis could use civilians as human shields, Asiri said. He stressed that the security of Yemenis was as important to Saudi Arabia as the security of Saudi citizens and urged Yemeni citizens in Saada to leave their homes and refuse to respond to Houthi instructions.

Prime among the locations targeted in the aerial sorties, according to Asiri, were the ammunitions’ stores in the Houthi command centres, and hospitals and schools that had become command centres and weapons’ warehouses. There was a particular focus on weapons warehouses and locations along the southern border with Saudi Arabia, which Houthi militias, he alleged, had equipped for an attack on the Saudi border.

Meanwhile, coalition fighters launched a new raid against the home of former president Saleh in Sanaa. Sources from the political party of the deposed president and residents said that Arab coalition forces launched an assault against Sanaa at dawn Sunday targeting Saleh’s home. Sources report hearing three massive explosions and seeing columns of smoke rising from the area where Saleh’s home is located. The Yemeni News Agency reported that, “Saleh and the members of his family are safe following the air raids against his home.” Media images show Saleh himself in front of the ruins of his home, condemning the “barbarian act”. He was also quoted as saying: “If the coalition forces arrived on the ground we would treat them to a splendid reception.”

After more than a month since it started, Operation Decisive Storm is still turning in place. As Al-Ahram Weekly has noted before, the political aim of it is shrouded in ambiguity, the will is confused, and the threads of internal conflicts are tangled with those of conflicts abroad. Managing this conflict requires capacities greater than those possessed by the parties that ignited it. One cannot help but thinking of the saying, “Spare me Lord from what I suffer at the hands of my friends. As for my enemies, I can handle them.”

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