Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi requested the presence of the Arab Coalition in Yemen to help the legitimate government regain the country from the grip of the Houthi militias five years ago.
Five years later and the Houthis are still in Yemen, but it looks as if the coalition’s stance has changed, with the UAE scaling down its presence in a development that may be linked to international tensions, particularly between Iran and the US.
The repercussions of the international tensions started to be visible on 14 May, when Khaled Al-Faleh, the Saudi minister of energy, announced that two Saudi pumping stations producing five million barrels of oil per day had been targeted by Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
The oil pipelines connected to the stations were responsible for transporting oil from the eastern zone of the kingdom to the Red Sea.
The Houthis quickly confirmed their responsibility for the attacks, according to their press agency Saba. “The Saudi operation is to be followed by other military operations against 300 vital military targets,” it said.
At the same time, the Mareb Press Website reported Houthi leaders as saying that the targets would include military installations in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Former Iraqi MP Mashaan Al-Gabouri appeared on Al-Forat, an Iraqi TV channel, on 19 June to reveal that some of the drones that hit the oil installations in Saudi Arabia had been launched from Iraq.
“The US secretly told [Iraqi] Prime Minister Adel Abdel-Hadi that it had pinpointed the launching point in Iraq from where the drones hit the Saudi oil installations, resulting in tensions between the US, which supports the Arab Coalition, and Iran,” Al-Gabouri said.
The US Wall Street Journal confirmed the story on 28 June, citing US officials as saying the drones had taken off from Iraq and not from Yemen as was previously believed.
Some observers said Iran was aiming to confuse its foes by putting the region in additional danger by targeting oil installations in a way that would save Tehran from being directly accused by the international community.
Iran also wants to gauge the Arab stance and Saudi Arabia’s readiness, in addition to confusing US calculations to push it towards a political settlement on the nuclear deal between the West and Tehran. It also wants to curb Saudi economic influence in Syria and Iraq.
Iran appears to be ready for a military confrontation, utilising regional proxy militias that analysts believe will play a role in rising regional tensions.
A UK Economist magazine report in March 2018 stated that the Iraqi authorities had allowed Shia-backed militias to set up camps on the Saudi-Iraqi border.
The magazine said 30 militias, comprising 125,000 fighters, had joined the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces in 2014.
On Sunday, it was reported that the UAE had withdrawn some of its forces from Aden in South Yemen over the past three weeks. The UAE move was not expected, the reports said, raising questions on its motives.
“Every now and again a reshuffle takes places within the forces of the Arab Coalition in Yemen. We received information from Aden that the UAE forces withdrew and are to be replaced by Saudi and Sudanese forces,” said Mohamed Gamih, a Yemeni politician.
Gamih referred to an article on the Aden Al-Ghad Website saying that developments in Yemen were tightly linked to tensions in the Arab Gulf region. He said these tensions had come about when Houthi militias has used drones in attacks on Saudi Arabia.
The Houthis’ response looked like retaliation from Tehran after Washington had re-imposed sanctions on Iran, he added.
There is unlikely to be disagreement within UAE domestic circles about participation in the Arab Coalition in Yemen, Gamih said, adding that “even if there were disagreement in the UAE it would not come to the surface.”
On Monday, the Al-Mashhad Al-Yemeni Website reported that UAE forces were preparing to leave the Mareb governorate days after taking off from Aden accompanied by air defence planes.
A military source said the UAE had withdrawn military equipment from Sorwah west of Mareb and that a UAE Patriot Missile system would be replaced by a Saudi one, according to press statements.
The military source added that the UAE equipment was being prepared to return to the UAE. Local press sources confirmed that heavy military artillery comprising 20 tanks and armoured vehicles that the UAE brought into Yemen in 2015 was being shipped from Aden to an unknown destination.
“It is true that there have been some troop movements... but it is not a redeployment from Yemen,” a senior Emirati official told the Reuters news agency.
Meanwhile, News Yemen tweeted that “tonight the last Emirati soldier left Mareb after the UAE withdrew its forces and its air-defence system that is to be replaced by a Saudi air-defence system… It looks like the UAE will leave the coalition and Yemen in the coming days, which is what President Hadi had requested.”
A number of political analysts believe the UAE is trying to protect itself against current international developments that include the Houthis’ use of drones that could reach the UAE, protests against the UAE presence in South Yemen and the Socotra Island, and the hazards drones launched from Iraq could pose.
These developments could cause a change in the UAE regarding its presence in Yemen, but it is unlikely to change it entirely since the UAE has left its Security Belt Forces and Southern Transitional Council in Aden.
Governor of Abyan Abu Bakr Hussein told the Al-Ghad Al-Moshreq TV channel that Abyan had received support from the UAE in the form of the Hassan Dam funded by the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development. The project will irrigate 30,000 hectares in Abyan in Yemen, he said.
“The Emirates Red Crescent has never hesitated to extend all means of support to Abyan. All the humanitarian aid we requested we received in less than 24 hours,” Hussein added.
The Emirates Red Crescent has built and helped rehabilitate 18 schools in Abyan, in addition to working on a water station that will provide water to 60,000 Yemenis, he noted.
Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Theresa May convened with Saudi Crown-Prince Mohamed Bin Salman on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Osaka on Saturday to discuss a political solution to the conflict in Yemen.
The following day the UK newspaper the Guardian reported a senior official in the UK government as saying that she had “reiterated the need to keep working on finding a political solution to end the conflict, which is causing significant humanitarian suffering.”
UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths is working towards reviving a political solution in Sanaa. This weekend, Griffiths is scheduled to fly to Moscow on a one-day visit focused on Yemen to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and deputy Sergei Vershinin.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Yemen amid international tensions