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Yemen: A New Corridor of Control

* Dr. Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan

Yemen has become “new corridor of control” in the region which has significant repercussions in terms of energy & food security, socio-economic prosperity, geopolitical supremacy and of course geostrategic comparative advantage. Conflicting realities has widened human miseries due to which it has become one of the biggest humanitarian crisis in the region.

Backdoor diplomacy has somehow, halted ongoing proxy war in Yemen and after eight days of negotiations the agreement among Yemen’s warring parties on a ceasefire in the vital port city of “Hodeidah” has been inked. It is indeed the biggest breakthrough of diplomacy over destruction in which more than 10,000 lives have been consumed since 2015. UN special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, promised that “tangible agreements will be announced by the end of this round”. In an unprecedented confidence-building measure Yemen’s government and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels have agreed to swap thousands of prisoners. It is a giant step toward achieving durable peace. It is called “Hodeidah agreement” which holds greater significance.

According to which all the warring parties will withdraw from the “harbor” and “city”, leaving local forces to maintain security, which the Saudi-led coalition has demanded for more than a year. It is hoped that the UN attempts to secure a peaceful solution will help facilitate the flow of food and aid to civilians in the city and far beyond. Yemeni conflict has killed an estimated 80,000 children due to sever starvation.  

Saudi Arabia and UAE have been striving hard to achieve a “political solution” for Yemen and its struggling people. The “forces of evil” and “followers of darkness” have been assisting rebels toppling the legitimate government in Yemen. It has been confirmed in various reports of international organizations and regulators that “Iran” has been trying its best through secretive ways and means to establish a new corridor of control in Yemen for protecting its own vested interests. Its “greater plan” has been a rigorous “Lebanonization” and annexation predatory on the name of ethnicity, difference of faith and association. Military training, supply of arms, infiltration of wandering souls (jihadi groups) polluted by magicians of hatred, bigotry and enemies of humanity, has spoiled the basic fabric of Yemeni government and society alike. Houthis and its master captured Saada, Hajja, Amran, Al-Mahwit, Sana, Ibb, and Al-Jawf. The key port is now controlled by Iran’s allies, the Houthi rebels, who seized Yemen’s capital Sanaa and huge swathes of the country.

In wild chase for “Iranian dominance” weaker factions of the society comprising of children and women have been primarily targeted and misused for marital goals. In the recent past, many international humanitarian commissions warned Houthis and other rebels for creating havocs in the daily lives of common people.   

Despite, Saudi Arabia and UAE diplomatic efforts and numerous concessions the other side backed by Iran badly indulged in building obstacles to peace. However, the next round of negotiations will be held in late January 2019.        

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Anwar Gargash, said on Twitter, this diplomatic leap was facilitated by a campaign of sustained military pressure on Hodeidah. There is still work to be done to usher in a lasting political solution. A coalition assembled by Saudi Arabia launched an air campaign against the rebels in March 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognised government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Hadi's government was toppled by Houthi rebels in late 2014 after the rebels stormed south from their stronghold of Saada, and captured large parts of the north. Since then, more than 10,000 people have been killed in fighting, millions have been forced from their homes and the impoverished country has been pushed to the brink of famine.

Hodeida is also the main entry point for food, fuel and goods in an import-dependent country where UNICEF says more than 2 million children are suffering acute malnutrition. Key coalition member the United Arab Emirates said it was pausing the operation to allow for UN-led peace efforts.

A UN Panel of Experts report (2018) released to the Security Council in February 2018 but not made public confirmed Saudi Arabia’s concerns towards “Iranian Connection” in the Yemeni war. Iranian designed and manufactured “Qiam-1 missile” was operationalized and channelized   in Yemen. The Iranians have been sending/smuggling weapons into Yemen, they are not sending a giant missile, and they are sending parts that make a missile go further. Furthermore, attacks of ballistic missiles targeting the kingdom have had not stopped.

Concrete evidence of the Iranian “Revolutionary Guards”, “Hussein Brigades” “Quds force”, and “Lebanese Hezbollah” has been assisting Houthis. Saudi Arabia’s biggest concern is that the Shiite rebels on their southern border will develop “military capabilities” on par with “Hezbollah” in Lebanon. Moreover, Iran controlling Yemen via its Houthi Rebel could deny access to the “Red Sea” and the “Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)” simultaneously, cutting off Saudi Arabia's main avenues for “energy exports” and causing trouble for global economy and business activities. Geographically, the “Gulf of Aden” and the southeast portion of the Red Sea are bisected by a relatively tiny waterway, just 12 miles wide, with Yemen on one side and Djibouti and Eritrea on the other. This relatively tight channel is known as the “Mandeb Strait”.

According to international reports (2018) currently, five percent of the world's entire oil supplies move through the Red Sea, with an estimated 2.1 million barrels a day transiting through the Mandeb Strait alone, and close to 4 million barrels a day transits the Suez Canal. If the southern Red Sea and or the Gulf of Aden were mined or if vessels were put under threat of airborne, surface or subsurface attack, this nexus between the eastern world and the western world would close. Ships would not be able to reach the Suez Canal to enter the Mediterranean and onward into the Atlantic and ships traveling from Europe or the US would not be able to enter the Red Sea and continue on to Asia. Instead they would have to take the long and arduous southern route around the tip of Africa, which is pretty much the mother of all detours. So, concerns of Saudi Arabia are real and genuine.

Saudi Arabia fears that “Houthi Rebels” consolidation and “territorial gains” in Western Yemen could help Iran to step in and begin to build up its proxy with similar weapons and tactics as it uses in the Persian Gulf. The impact of Iran controlling the region's two major logistical choke points, and the region's two primary avenues for which oil exports travel, especially those from Saudi Arabia, has wide ranging consequences for players in the region and beyond.

After the 2011 Arab Spring, sectarian discourse has become more heated, reorganizing Yemeni society along sectarian lines and rearranging people’s relationships to one another on a non-nationalist basis. Now Yemen has become “jungle of sectarian polarization” that plagues the region, from Iraq to Syria and Lebanon. Now doves of peace as supported by Saudi-UAE coalition once again are flying high. Energy security looms large which also reflects in ongoing regional rivalry in the GCC and MENA. Ongoing war in Yemen is impacting the international oil markets which need to be rectified as soon as possible. Political solution is the way forward. Diplomacy, dialogue and development must be mantra of every warring party in Yemen for achieving sustainable peace.

Yemen’s unimaginable suffering is weighing on the world’s conscience. Humanity has been sieged and caged by Houthi Rebels and its manipulators (Iran) in Yemen for so many years. Children have been used as “soldiers” and women have been misused for possible shields. Food shortage has produced famine. Al-Qaeda and jihadi groups are making their inroads in different parts of Yemen which has sparked regional security. Energy hubs and maritime infrastructures are also under serious threat of total devastation and destruction.       

Yemen, one of the Arab world's poorest countries, has been initially devastated by a civil war and afterwards, a deadly proxy war. The US head of the World Food Program (November 2018), 14 million Yemenis are on the verge of starvation. Emboldened by its advances in Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere, and encouraged by Obama-era “rebalancing,” Iran smelled an opportunity. It hooked up with the Houthis. Armed, trained and backed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, the Houthis captured Sana’a and some of Yemen’s top strategic sites.

Saudis and UAE has had legitimate reasons to intervene in Yemen. A Houthi victory (backed by Iran) there places a militant Iran proxy at their borders. The Houthis periodically fire Iranian-made missiles at them. Access to nearby ports and waterways is threatened by both the states. Iran, is increasing its military support in Yemen, is tightening its grip in the neighborhood which turns to be a recipe for endless regional instability.

Iranian operatives are now successfully helping Houthi rebels control cyberspace in Yemen’s brutal civil war, allowing the militia to command the country’s main internet service provider, censor online comment, alter government websites and make money from crypto-currencies.

Nevertheless, a freshly UN-led brokered cease-fire is something to cheer. But only sustained pressure will get Iran to end their proxy war.