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Ed Webb

How will hajj stampede impact Iran-Saudi relations? - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Midd... - 2 views

  • Until recently, figures close to the Rouhani administration, and in particular the chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, were seeking more engagement with the Saudis. The cornerstone of their approach was the assumption that such interaction could lessen the tensions in Iran’s relations with the Saudi royal family. This approach has been criticized at home, mostly by conservatives who argue that more engagement with the Saudis is possible in case Riyadh changes its approach toward Iran and some regional issues.
  • Given recent developments, and above all the war in Yemen and the hajj stampede, critics of outreach to the Saudis — backed by Iranian public sentiment, which is tilted against Riyadh — now have the upper hand in Tehran
Ed Webb

Senate Democrats hold up arms sales for Saudi war in Yemen - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of t... - 2 views

  • Congress was notified Aug. 19 of the Obama administration's intent to provide Riyadh with thousands of precision-guided munitions. The sale is linked to the administration's effort to placate Gulf countries' concerns about the Iranian nuclear deal, but it has hit a snag with Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who want to see the Saudi-led campaign reeled in.
  • “I fear that our failure to strongly advocate diplomacy in Yemen over the past two years, coupled with our failure to urge restraint in the face of the crisis last spring, may put the viability of this critical [US-Saudi] partnership at risk,” said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. “The Leahy Law prohibits US security assistance — and many forms of defense cooperation — with forces that have engaged in gross violations of human rights. If reports are accurate, the Saudi indiscriminate targeting in the air campaign and an overly broad naval blockade could well constitute such violations.”
  • While the sale is almost certain to go through eventually, they hope to use it as leverage to win concessions on kick-starting political negotiations with the Houthis and lifting the blockade
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  • Critics of the sale in particular point out that Riyadh has been able to derive extra legitimacy from the US support for its campaign.

    “We are very careful in picking targets. We have very precise weapons,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told CBS News after an airstrike killed more than 130 people at a wedding reception. “We work with our allies, including the United States, on these targets.”

  • Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. “It's not all bad that the Saudis decided that they wanted to act immediately in Yemen. I don't think we need to be 'mother may I' in terms of folks acting in their own security interests in the region. But I am struck by the level of their response compared to what I view as an extremely tepid response to Sunni extremism. It's not just Iranian influence in the region that should trouble us.”
Ed Webb

Yemen Doesn't Need the Obama Administration's 'Deep Concern' | Foreign Policy - 2 views

  • more than 21 million of Yemen’s 25 million people now require some form of aid to survive, and more than 1.5 million have fled their homes
  • The responsibility for Yemen’s descent into wanton destruction lies not with the United States, but with Yemen’s government in exile, the Houthis, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and other Yemeni political and military leaders; they are each pursuing their own short-sighted interests at the expense of an equitable and inclusive peace. But thanks to the U.S. government’s deep involvement in what many Yemenis call the “Saudi-American” military campaign, American hands are far from clean
  • To truly stand with Yemenis, the Obama administration must adopt a radically different course: withdraw its support to the coalition including the transfer of arms to belligerent parties, publicly demand the free flow of commercial goods into all ports, and rally support at the United Nations Security Council for an immediate, unconditional cease-fire and inclusive political process to bring an end to the war.
Ed Webb

Yemen pays price for Saudis' sectarian paranoia | Middle East Eye - 1 views

  • The success of the Houthi insurgency from the north that swept the Yemeni leadership from power, taking over the capital Sanaa, was perversely treated by the Security Council as a military coup justifying the intervention by a Saudi-led coalition. Strange to recall that the 2013 undisguised military coup in Egypt, with much bloodier reprisals against the displaced elected rulers, aroused not a murmur of protest in the halls of the UN. So goes geopolitics in the Middle East.
  • the geopolitical tendency to reduce an incredibly complex national history and interplay of contending forces to a simplistic story of Sunni versus Shia rivalry for the control of the country
  • allows Saudi Arabia to portray the strife in Yemen as another theatre of the wider region proxy war pitting Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies against Iran, which is a guaranteed way of securing US and Israeli backing
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  • not a regional politics based on sectarian priorities, but rather a pathological preoccupation with regime stability in the Saudi monarchy, with anxieties arising whenever political tendencies emerge in the region that elude its control, and are perceived as threatening
  • There is a long experience of division between the north and the south, and this means that any unity government for the whole of Yemen can only be sustained by an iron-fisted dictator like Saleh or through a genuine power-sharing federalist kind of arrangement. Beyond this, the country bears the scars of Ottoman rule intermixed with a British presence in Aden and the surrounding area, vital for colonial priorities of controlling the Suez and the trade routes to the East.

    Additionally, Yemen remains a composite of tribes that still command the major loyalty of people. The modern European insistence on sovereign states in the Middle East never succeeded in overcoming the primacy of Yemeni tribal identities. Any possibility of political stability requires subsidising Yemen’s tribes as Saudi Arabia did during Saleh’s dictatorship (1990-2012) or creating a multi-coloured quilt of autonomous tribal polities. When geography and tribalism are taken into account recourse to the Shia-Sunni divide or the Riyadh-Tehran rivalry as an explanation of Yemen’s strife-ridden country is a cruel and futile fantasy.

  • What is needed is establishing a political transition sensitive both to the North-South split and the strength of Yemeni tribes coupled with massive economic assistance from outside and the creation of a UN peacekeeping presence tasked with implementation
  • Such a rational path is currently blocked, especially by the intense militancy of the aggressive Saudi leadership of King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, and his son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Secretary of Defence, the apparent champion of military intervention
Ed Webb

Obama: Global arms dealer-in-chief | Middle East Eye - 2 views

  • A newly released report reveals Obama is the greatest arms exporter since the Second World War. The dollar value of all major arms deals overseen by the first five years of the Obama White House now exceeds the amount overseen by the Bush White House in its full eight years in office by nearly $30 billion
  • I knew there were record deals with the Saudis, but to outsell the eight years of Bush, to sell more than any president since World War II, was surprising even to me, who follows these things quite closely. The majority, 60 percent, have gone to the Persian Gulf and Middle East, and within that, the Saudis have been the largest recipient of things like US fighter planes, Apache attack helicopters, bombs, guns, almost an entire arsenal
  • The Congressional Research Service found that since October 2010 alone, President Obama has agreed to sell $90.4 billion in arms to the Gulf kingdom.

    “That President Obama would so enthusiastically endorse arming such a brutal authoritarian government is unsurprising, since the United States is by far the leading arms dealer (with 47 percent of the world total) to what an annual State Department report classifies as the world’s “least democratically governed states,” notes Micah Zenko, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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  • In 2008, the United Nations banned the use of cluster munitions - an agreement the US is yet to ratify. Why? Cluster bombs are the number one seller for Textron Systems Corporation – a Wall Street-listed company located in Providence, Rhode Island
  • In February of this year, the Obama administration announced it would allow the sale of US manufactured armed drones to its allies in the Middle East
Ed Webb

Saudi Arabia's long history of destructive intervention in Yemen | Middle East Eye - 3 views

  • With its mosaic of religious communities countering the Wahhabi call, cultural, tribal and historical ties to Saudi realms on its border, deep historical memory of civilizational achievement, and strategic location, Yemen was perceived as both threat and target. Keeping it split among political entities was a policy priority.
  • Subsidies to northern tribes were often another feature of the relationship
  • During Ali Abdullah Saleh’s years in charge in Sanaa Saudi cultural influence developed through Salafi proselytization. While it would be incorrect to reduce Salafism in Yemen to a Saudi implant, the Saudi connection is crucial to the spread of radical Sunni ideology and practice
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  • Saudi Arabia funds the government as well as tribal leaders to secure support for Saudi policies and prevent the emergence of a non-tribal, non-sectarian democratic culture. Yet although Saleh worked hard at building a close relationship with Riyadh, he and other Yemenis were still treated with disdain by the Saudi princes, often denied meetings with the recently deceased Abdullah for receptions with his crown prince Sultan, who handled the “Yemen file”.
Ed Webb

Yemen and Iran: What's really going on? - 2 views

  • it may be true that members of Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guard are "embedded" in Yemen. Or it may not. Until the Saudis produce the evidence they claim to possess, we only have their word for it.
  • Iranian involvement in Yemen also has to be judged alongside the involvement of other players. In that regard, Saudi Arabia's meddling in Yemen, over a long period, has been – and still is – far more persistent and pervasive than that of any other country, including Iran. The recent ICG report also points out that the beleaguered Yemeni president (or perhaps ex-president now) Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and his allies are more dependent on Riyadh than the Houthis are on Tehran.
  • in terms of fighting on the ground, Iran is not the Houthis' most important ally; former president Ali Abdullah Saleh is
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  • The Saudis have tacitly acknowledged this in their targeting of airstrikes, since many have been directed against Saleh's forces and included attacks on Sanhan, Saleh's home district
  • In the current hothouse atmosphere, however, questioning whether Iran's actual involvement in Yemen justifies the hype is liable to be viewed as heresy or a sign of support for Iran
  • the unquestioning way they are lapped up and regurgitated is very reminiscent of the propaganda surrounding Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the 2003 war.
  • Although it's possible that Iran is supplying the Houthis with weapons, there is a lack of solid evidence to support such claims and other factors suggest they should be treated with caution.
  • One possible interpretation of Iran's behaviour is that while it is certainly stirring things in Yemen it is doing so on the cheap, perhaps as a diversionary tactic. In the words of former US ambassador Barbara Bodine:

    "I think the Iranian interest in this is that the Saudis, as we know, are very much involved in trying to unseat Assad, who is extraordinarily important to Iran, and Iran coming in [to Yemen] and providing support to fellow Shia is a way of distracting the Saudis – and in that sense the Iranians have been terribly successful because we have reports of 150,000 Saudi troops on the border, large numbers of aircraft and ships and everything being pulled into Yemen. 

    "Everything that's being pulled into Yemen [by the Saudis, etc] is not being focused on Syria or, for that matter, ISIL. So, as an Iranian gambit to pull the Saudis away from what they consider more important, it was a very good gambit."

    Very sound analysis, as usual, from Brian.
Ed Webb

How Yemen's US-backed ex-dictator is tearing his country apart - Telegraph - 2 views

    Single-factor explanations rarely satisfy. Is this a sectarian conflict? An Iran/Saudi proxy war? Partly, maybe. But this is also the outcome of Saleh's regime survival strategy of divide and rule, manipulating the priorities of outside actors.
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