The Houthi rebels and their ally Ali Abdullah Saleh, former president of Yemen, show no sign of bending to the will of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Addul-Aziz Al Saud Salman after more than four months of war. The grim struggle in Yemen goes on with a frightful toll for the Yemeni people.
The leader of the Zaydi Houthi rebels, Abdul-Malek al-Houthi, gave a speech this week to his followers, promising “we are in a great battle in which we must use all our efforts.” He acknowledged the Saudis and their allies had retaken the southern port of Aden, but said “the enemy threw all their weight to gain a limited achievement.” Abdul-Malek accused the Saudis and their ally, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, of working with both Israel and the Islamic State to take Aden. He called for an internal Yemeni political solution to the war.
Former president Saleh, in an interview, went further and called Hadi a traitor for backing the Saudis who should be tried for treason. Saleh called his former deputy “an enemy of all Yemenis” who should be tried for war crimes in the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Saleh went on to blast the new Saudi leadership for abandoning the wise policies of the late King Abdullah, who died in January. The new leadership “is no longer a sisterly or friendly country but rather an aggressor against our Yemeni people.”
Meanwhile, the Yemeni people are heading towards a humanitarian disaster as the war continues. Some aid is now moving into Aden, but the rest of the country is desperately short of water, food, and medical supplies. Both sides have sabotaged efforts to arrange short cease fires to allow temporary relief.
The strong words of defiance from Abdul-Malek al-Houthi and Ali Abdullah Saleh suggest they are not cowed by Saudi air power. Their forces retain control of most of what used to be North Yemen. The Saudis, Hadi, and al-Qaida have control of the ports of what used to be South Yemen: Saudi Arabia and Hadi have Aden; al-Qaida has Mukalla.
The Saudis and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are pouring arms into Aden and trying to expand their foothold north. It’s slow work uphill — literally. A major battle is underway at a large Soviet-built air base north of Aden at Al-Anad. The air base is on the main road to Taiz, the next Saudi military objective.
The Saudi press reports 1,500 troops from the UAE are participating in the battle for Al-Anad, the first major ground unit from the coalition to enter the war. This suggests the Hadi forces are too weak to win on their own. Hadi is calling for total victory.
Inside the Kingdom, growing doubts about the war are circulating quietly. The king’s ambitious son and minister of defense, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is derisively called the “little general” behind his back for his role in starting the war. The late foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, is rumored to have opposed the war and warned that it would be a quagmire or worse before passing away. Saud enjoys great respect among Saudis; invoking him against the young Mohammed bin Salman is a calculated maneuver to undermine the war and the prince. Of course, Saud cannot speak for himself.
A great humanitarian tragedy is unfolding in the Arabian Peninsula. The international community appears powerless to help the Yemeni people or, even worse, indifferent to their fate. The richest countries in the Arab world are waging war and blockade against the poorest nation in Arabia with no end in sight. For its part, the United States has committed to accelerating arms deliveries to the kingdom and the Gulf states which helps them continue the air and naval blockade.