Yemen; US supplied Arms Bonanza for Houthis-Troops for Riyadh; Quandary for Pakistan
Yemen, like Afghanistan, has a long reputation as a quagmire for foreign invaders. Saudi Arabia could break its teeth there if the U.S. does not constrain it. GRAHAM FULLER
Not long before the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdul-Aziz Ibn Saud, died in 1953, he is purported to have said, and "The good or evil for us will come from Yemen." With the commencement of air strikes on targets in Yemen, it is increasingly likely that the latter part of his prediction will come true. Nothing good—and certainly nothing decisive—will come from the Saudi led "Operation Decisive Storm."
A ground invasion will tie up thousands of Saudi soldiers for what could be months or even years when the Kingdom must also worry about the threat of the Islamic State on its northern borders. It is also worth remembering that the Saudi Army employs a large contingent of soldiers who are ethnically Yemeni. It is an open question as to how these men may or may not respond when ordered to kill fellow Yemenis. At the same time that they are dealing with what will undoubtedly be a protracted and bloody war; the Saudi government will be forced to manage what could be tens of thousands of refugees pouring across its southern border from Yemen.
Military action in Yemen could well lead the House of Saud into the abyss that King Abdul-Aziz Ibn Saud may have had in mind before he made his prophetic warning
MICHAEL HORTON in Counterpunch
Saudis Face Defeat in Yemen and Instability at Home
By MIKE WHITNEY
The Saudis launched this latest aggression invoking the thinnest of pretexts that it wanted to "restore the legitimate government" and protect the "Yemeni constitution and elections."
As CNN's Ali Alahmed sardonically quipped:
"The need to protect constitutions and elections is a rather strange message from the representative of an absolute monarchy … The kingdom's real motives seem clear if one looks at Saudi monarchy's history of not allowing regional competition of any kind, while consistently combating efforts to build democratic governments that empower the people…
The Saudi goal is simple: Prevent the rise of any popularly supported government in the region that seeks self-determination. And the excuse of "resisting Iran's influence," meanwhile, appears to be nothing but sectarian bluster." (What Saudi Arabia wants in Yemen, CNN)
-- the Saudi government, along with its GCC partners, Egypt, Sudan, Morocco, and Jordan, has ostensibly launched 'Operation Decisive Storm' to reinstall Hadi who has fled Yemen for Saudi Arabia. The less than clearly articulated goal of the military campaign in Yemen is to reinstall the Hadi led government and to force the Houthis' to lay down their arms and negotiate. It is unlikely that these goals will be achieved. Rather than eroding support for the Houthis, the Saudis and their partners' actions in Yemen, may bolster short term support for the Houthis and former president Saleh who is now nominally allied with the Houthis. Most Yemenis are none too fond of the House of Saud and there are many Yemenis still alive who remember the Egyptians' bloody and disastrous 1962-67 invasion of north Yemen which claimed the lives of twenty thousand Egyptian soldiers and thousands of Yemeni fighters and civilians.
Diplomats who know Saudi Arabia feel that Riyadh is getting into a quagmire .Pakistan is in a quandary .To send troops or not .For the time being no .But a defence protocol requires that Pakistan troops should come to Saudi aid as it has done many times in the past .No could mean possible adverse reaction from Saudis and GCC . But problems at home (see 2nd article) Turbulence in the Gulf would affect everyone including India which has 6 million workers there.
Below are two in depth articles on the subject
K.Gajendra Singh 27 April 2015Delhi
WEEKEND EDITION APRIL 24-26, 2015
Misdirection in Yemen
Houthi Arms Bonanza Came from Saleh, Not Iran
by GARETH PORTER
As the Saudi bombing campaign against Houthi targets in Yemen continues, notwithstanding a temporary pause, the corporate media narrative about the conflict in Yemen is organised decisively around the idea that it is a proxy war between Iran on one side and the Saudis and United States on the other.
USA Today responded like Pavlov's dog this week to a leak by Pentagon officials that it was sending the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt to the waters off Yemen, supposedly to intercept Iranian vessels carrying weapons to the Houthis. It turned out that the warship was being sent primarily to symbolise US support for the Saudis, and the Pentagon made no mention of Iranian arms when it announced the move. But the story of the US navy intercepting Iranian arms was irresistible, because it fit so neatly into the larger theme of Iran arming and training the Houthis as its proxy military force in Yemen.
News stories on Yemen in recent months have increasingly incorporated a sentence or even a paragraph invoking the accusation that Iran has been arming the Houthis and using them to gain power in the Gulf. The State Department's principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Gerald Feierstein nourished that narrative in Congressional testimony last week depicting Iran as having provided "financial support, weapons, training and intelligence" to the Houthis. Feierstein acknowledged that the Houthi movement is "not controlled directly by Iran", but claimed a "significant growth in Iranian engagement" with the Houthis in the past year.
Like most popular myths the dominant narrative of the Houthi movement as Iranian proxy in Yemen is based on a kernel of truth: the Houthis share the Iranians' dim views of American intentions in the Middle East and have sought to take advantage of the Hezbollah model to enhance their political-military effectiveness.
Houthis rise – myth and reality
But the assumption that the Houthis have been looking to Iran to train their troops or supply their need for weapons ignores the most basic facts of their ascendance. The Houthis built up their military forces from virtually nothing to as many 100,000 troops today through a series of six wars with Yemeni government troops. In the process they have not only become much better trained, but have acquired a vast pool of arms from Yemen's black market. A United Nations Experts' report earlier this year cites estimates that Yemen is awash with 40 to 60 million weapons. The Houthis were also getting a continuing stream of modern arms directly from corrupt Yemeni military commanders from 2004 through 2010
And in their eagerness to conform to the general theme of an Iran vs US-Saudi proxy war in Yemen, the media's treatment of alleged Iranian arms to the Houthis has ignored the fact that the Houthis had forged an alliance by early 2014 with a far larger source of arms: former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. It was that alliance that propelled the Houthis into power last September, not their ties with Iran.
After Saleh was forced to step down as president in 2012, the government supposedly reorganised the military and Saleh's son Ahmed Ali Saleh was ousted as commander of the Republican Guard. But in fact Saleh continued to control the military through his allies in most of the command positions. When the Houthi advanced on Sanaa last September, it was all carefully choreographed by Saleh. The Houthis were able to take one Yemeni military facility after another without a fight and enter the capital easily.
Houthi weapon bonanza – a gift from America
In the process, the Houthis acquired a new bonanza of weapons that had been provided by the United States over the previous eight years. According to Pentagon documents acquired under the Freedom of Information Act by Joseph Trevithick, the Defence Department had delivered about $500 million in military hardware to the Yemeni military from 2006 on. The gusher of new US arms included Russian-made helicopters, more than 100 Humvees with the latest armor packages, 100s of pickup trucks, rocket propelled grenades, advanced radios, night vision goggles and millions of rounds of ammunition.
A significant part of that weaponry and equipment was scooped up by Houthi fighters on their way into Sanaa and has been visible in the months since then. When the Houthis advanced into Aden 1 April, residents reported seeing four tanks and three armored vehicles as well as Rocket propelled grenades. On 29 March, after the Saudi bombing campaign had begun, the Houthis were reported to have had control of the Yemeni Air Force's 16 fighter planes, of which eleven had been destroyed by the bombing.
In light of the reality that the Houthis are already flush with American arms that may be worth as much as hundreds of millions of dollars, the flurry of media excitement over the US Navy sending another warship to intercept an Iranian flotilla of arms is an odd bit of burlesque that ought to be in an embarrassment.
The one concrete allegation that has been invoked by media stories in recent months is the case of a ship called Jihan 1, said to have been laden with Iranian arms, that was intercepted in early 2013. A Reuters story last December cited a list a list of all the items on board provided by a "senior Yemeni security official," which included Katyusha rifles, RPGs-7s, tons of RDX explosives and surface-to-air missiles.
Jihan 1 – murky claims
But the Hadi government never provided any evidence that the ship was sent by Iran or was intended for the Houthis. And most of the items mentioned were not even Iranian-manufactured weapons. The one odd exception was a reference to "Iranian-made night vision goggles". That fact suggests that the ship was intended to provide arms to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which carries out large numbers of terrorist bombings and would have needed the large supplies of RDX. The Houthis, on the other hand, are not known to have used that explosive. The UN expert panel formed to support the UN Security Council sanctions against Houthi commanders and Salehreported that it had been "unable to independently confirm the allegation" about the Jihan 1.
The Reuters story, published months after the Houthis had acquired a large portion of the Yemeni army's American arms, quoted a second Yemeni security official as still claiming that Iranian weapons "are still coming in by sea and there's money coming in through transfers".
Reuters further claimed that a "senior Iranian official," contradicting official Iranian denials, had told the news agency that "the pace of money and arms getting to the Houthis had increased since their seizure of Sanaa." The official allegedly said there were hundreds of IRGC personnel training the Houthis and six Iranian military advisers in Yemen. That part of the story appears suspicious to say the least.
The politically convenient story line that the Houthis are proxies of Iran is hardly new. As a US diplomatic cable from Sanaa in 2009 reveals, the Yemeni government had waged a continuing campaign for years during its wars with the Houthis to persuade the United States that Iran and Hezbollah were arming and training the Houthis, but had never produced any real evidence to support the claim.
Ties between the Houthis and Iran undoubtedly exist, driven by a common distrust of American and Saudi roles in Yemen and the Houthis' need for an ideology that would enhance their power. But the slack-jawed media approach to the story – starting with its refusal to put the allegations of continuing Iran arms smuggling to the Houthis in the context of the Houthis bonanza of US arms – has produced the usual fog of misinformation and confusion.
Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian writing on US national security policy. His latest book, "Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare," was published in February 2014.
This article originally appeared in Middle East Eye.
Yemen's long shadow
Written by Khaled Ahmed |
Pakistan was in two minds over going to the aid of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states in the Yemen war, its government swearing allegiance but parliament ordaining "neutrality". Then the UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Yemen's Houthi rebels, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his son, who heads the rebel troops, thus clearly siding with Saudi Arabia and its Arab League friends. It imposed a global asset freeze and travel ban on Abdul Malik al-Houthi and Ahmed Saleh. It demanded that the Houthis withdraw from areas they had seized, including the capital, Sanaa, and "resume negotiations on the democratic transition begun in 2011, when Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to hand over power to [the pro-Saudi] Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi following mass protests".
Islamabad was relieved and supported the resolution. But Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, who is related to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, went ahead and revealed something that was not generally known. He said in a briefing in Washington that, in 1982, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia had signed a military protocol which entitled the kingdom to seek Pakistani troops. He disarmed reporters who had pointed out that remittances from expat Pakistanis — "$13.3 billion in [the] last nine months" — could be jeopardised if the GCC states decided to expel them. A UAE minister had warned Pakistan that if it didn't come to help in the Yemen war it would "pay a heavy price". On April 21, the Arab bombing of Yemen Houthis came to a halt.
People in Pakistan obviously didn't know about the "defence protocol" because a question had been raised about it in the joint session of parliament in March, with members demanding to know the details of such an agreement, "if it existed".
It is not possible to glean from Dar's comment whether the "protocol" was signed with Saudi Arabia or with the GCC, newly formed in 1981 in response to the "Iranian threat". It is quite possible that Pakistan had agreed, under pressure some say, to provide "military teeth" to the GCC. This happenedunder the military ruler, General Zia-ul-Haq, who was close to the Arabs, having served as a military attaché in the region.
While clearly an ally of Saudi Arabia, Zia was inclined to be neutral in the developing Iran-Arab confrontation. There were rumours in Pakistan in 1982 that the GCC states had threatened to expel all Pakistani workers if the country refused to "lend military teeth" to the formed grouping. There is little on record because of the extreme caution exercised by the rulers of the UAE. Most books on the Gulf states discuss the GCC as a harmless organisation, but a clearer indication of what was at stake is indicated by Christopher M. Davidson in his book, The United Arab Emirates: A Study in Survival (2005). According to him, the for an anti-Iran axis existed until 2001: "Until September 11, 2001, many of the strongly anti-Iranian emirates had favoured a 'Sunni axis', comprising the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban, in an effort to curb potential Shia expansion." The author added a footnote that his informationhad come from "personal interviews, undisclosed locations, 2003".
Most critics of a "willing" Nawaz Sharif government were given pause when columnists started writing about how an exodus of Pakistani workers from the Gulf, most of them unskilled and semi-skilled, could destabilise Pakistan and cause the government to fall. Over the past decade, power outages have caused elected governments to become unpopular. Electricity in Pakistan, mostly produced from oil, has not kept pace with consumption. Leading journalist and TV personality Najam Sethi wrote in The Friday Times: "Over 3 million Pakistanis work in these countries and remit over $11 billion a year to sustain nearly 30 million Pakistanis across the country. If these workers and their hard-earned monies were to be sanctioned by their hosts, angry Pakistanis would spill over into the streets against both the Arabs and their Pakistani ruling-class brothers. The economy would face a balance of payments crisis and the rupee would slide in parallel with forex reserves. Inflation would rise, hardship would follow and there would be fresh calls and agitation from the political parties for the ouster of the Sharif regime. Indeed, the very political parties that are insisting that Mr Sharif should refuse troops to the Saudis and maintain 'neutrality' would be the first ones to demand his resignation when such a policy leads to an angry and hurtful response from the Saudis and Gulf sheikhs."
Economist Sakib Sherani cautiously warned in Dawn: "There is a downside to the rising importance of this source of inflow. With worker remittances the equivalent of over 6 per cent of GDP, any disruption to the flow can have serious repercussions for the economy. This vulnerability is starkly demonstrated in the uncomfortable position Pakistan finds itself in with respect to the request for military help by Saudi Arabia in its offensive against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen. Worker remittances from the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman, amount to two-thirds of the total. If the potential ire of these countries is translated to the Pakistani emigrant workers, the pain of adopting 'neutrality' could be serious."
India too gets its remittances through money transfers from non-resident Indians (NRIs) employed outside the country to family, friends or relatives. It is the world's leading receiver of remittances, claiming more than 12 per cent of the global total in 2007. Remittances to stood at $67.6 billion in 2012-13, accounting for over 4 per cent of the country's GDP.
States do have "economic leverage" over other states, but it is especially so in Pakistan, with a prime minister who was saved from spending his in jail by Saudi intervention, which the Pakistani army couldn't ignore. Even at the UNSC, China and Russia could have opposed the pro-Saudi resolution. But they didn't.
As Vali Nasr wrote in his book, The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat, "China's trade… with Saudi Arabia has grown from $4 billion in 2001 to $50 billion in 2011; and with Egypt from less than a billion in 2001 to $9 billion in 2011. Since 2006 China has been exporting more to the Middle East than the US does, and the same is true for imports since 2009. In 2010, Chinese exports to the region were close to double that of the US (China is now the largest exporter to the region), and Chinese direct foreign investment took off, leaving America far behind: 30 per cent of China's global contracts in that year were with Arab enterprises."
Now that the Yemen war has gone from combat to consultative negotiation under the UN, Pakistan will feel less divided at home, between the Saudi-assisted Wahhabi and Deobandi clerics and the hunted Shia community, which fears another bout of "relocated" sectarian war. The state in Pakistan can disarm Arab suspicion of its loyalty but far more difficult will be the task of "delinking" from the Wahhabi and Deobandi non-state actors, now allied with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, who have caused disturbance in Pakistan's neighbouring states.