From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Tue Nov 17 2009 - 13:30:15 EST
Peninsula on the brink
Saudi Arabia's direct involvement in the conflict between the Yemeni
government and the Al-Houthi rebels represents a potentially dangerous
escalation, reports Nasser Arrabyee
12 - 18 November 2009
Issue No. 972
The five-year-old sporadic conflict between the Al-Houthi Shia rebels and
the Yemeni government this week entered a new stage with neighbouring Saudi
Arabia becoming directly involved in the fight against the rebels.
Saudi Arabia says it will continue to support the Yemeni government in the
latter's attempts to finish off the rebels, who attacked and occupied Saudi
territory on 5 November.
"We are not going to stop the bombing until the rebels retreat tens of
kilometres inside border," Saudi Deputy Defence Minister Prince Khaled Bin
Sultan told reporters on Tuesday.
The Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki warned Saudi Arabia of dire
consequences if it continues war against the Al-Houthi rebels. "We strongly
warn the regional countries to be careful, to be vigilant," he told
In response, Saudi forces killed and injured dozens of the rebels and
arrested more than 250 of them in the fiercest battles seen since the
beginning of the current round of the conflict in August 2009.
However, while Saudi forces drove back the rebels and regained Saudi
territory in four days of fighting, particularly the strategic
2,000-metre-high Jabal Al-Dukhan in the Jaizan area in the south of the
country, military officials say they need more time to comb border areas and
cleanse them of the rebels.
On 5 November, the Al-Houthi rebels based in Yemen attacked and occupied the
Saudi Jabal Al-Dukhan, killing one soldier and injuring 11 others.
About 40 rebels were arrested while infiltrating Saudi territory dressed in
women's clothes, some of them being members of Al-Qaeda, which has tried to
use Yemen as a launch pad to attack Saudi Arabia.
Saudi officials said at the end of the military operations that three Saudi
soldiers had been killed and 15 others injured, in addition to four women
from the same family who had been killed when rebels pounded their houses in
the Jaizan area.
Saudi officials also said that four Saudi soldiers were missing. For their
part, the Al-Houthi rebels said that they still controlled Saudi territory
and that they had arrested a number of Saudi soldiers.
"We are waiting for the ground attack from the Saudis, and we will confront
them with a guerrilla war," the rebels said in a statement sent to the media
by e-mail on 10 November. The Al-Houthi rebels are estimated to have some
About 50,000 Saudi nationals from some 240 villages in the border areas were
evacuated to safety before the Saudis launched their air strikes and
artillery bombardments on the Al-Houthi rebels.
Meanwhile, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said in a statement on 8
November that the conflict would only end with the crushing of the "group of
traitors and agents" he called the Al-Houthi rebels. Saleh said that the
real battles had only begun in recent days, and that Yemeni forces had only
been "in training" over the previous 90 days of conflict with the rebels.
The Yemeni government has also accused Shia scholars in Iran, Kuwait and
Bahrain of supporting the Al-Houthi rebels, and Yemeni officials are
investigating five Iranians sailors arrested late in October on an Iranian
ship laden with weapons, including anti-armour missiles, in the Yemeni
harbour of Midi, which is only a few kilometres from Al-Malahaid in western
Saada where the rebels have been fighting Yemeni and Saudi forces.
"The Iranian crew destroyed the SIMs of their mobiles and all the documents
in their lap-tops, so that nobody would be able to understand where the ship
came from or where it was going," the state-controlled Yemeni media quoted
an unidentified investigator as saying. The Iranian embassy denied at the
time the ship was carrying any weapons.
On Tuesday, the Saudi naval forces imposed a blockade on the Red Sea coast
to tighten the noose on the rebels and prevent any possible support to them.
The Saudi officials said they ordered their warships to search any suspected
ships sailing near the harbour of Midi.
According to Yemeni military sources, the country's army is preparing for
decisive battles with the rebels, who have seemed exhausted by the tight
blockade of their region.
On 10 November, the Yemeni army said in a statement that it controlled the
most important roads used by the rebels to receive supplies. A total of
seven vehicles laden with supplies have recently been destroyed on these
Amid these developments, there have been internal and external fears that
the current conflict may turn into a regional one.
According to Ali Saif Hassan, chairman of the Political Development Forum, a
local NGO, the Al-Houthi rebels have created new justifications for regional
intervention by attacking Saudi territories.
"Although the Al-Houthi rebels' action was political more than military, it
has created new justification for regional intervention," Hassan said.
"Before the Al-Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia, calls for stopping the war
were based on humanitarian and moral factors, but now the calls will be
based on regional and international interests," he said.
Despite Saudi statements to the effect that Saudi armed forces had ended
military operations after regaining the seized lands on 8 November, the
Al-Houthi rebels said on 10 November that Saudi air strikes had continued
using phosphorous bombs on strongholds inside Yemeni territory.
The Al-Houthi group said Tuesday in a statement sent via e- mails that Saudi
air strikes targeted government buildings in Shada area west of Saada
killing two women and a child.
For his part, Saudi scholar Sheikh Abdel-Aziz Al-Sheikh, the mufti of Saudi
Arabia, said in a press statement that fighting the Al-Houthi rebels was a
duty, and that any soldiers, Yemeni or Saudi, who fought the rebels could be
considered as mujahideen.
"The Al-Houthis are making an additional mistake by trying to impose their
corrupt faith on Muslim society as a whole," Al-Sheikh was quoted by the
Saudi media as saying.
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