New envoy in Yemen

Ahmed Eleiba , Friday 30 Mar 2018

A new UN special envoy has arrived in Yemen, paving the way for greater US intervention in the conflict in the country

Martin Griffiths
United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths speaks to the press upon his arrival at Sanaa international airport on March 24, 2018 (Photo: AFP)

Thousands of people flocked to the iconic Al-Sabeen Square in Sanaa in Yemen this week to mark the third anniversary of the beginning of the Saudi-led Storm of Resolve Operation in the country or “the start of the fourth year of steadfastness in the face of the aggression,” as the Houthi rebel media called it.

In his 80-minute televised address to supporters rallied in the square, Abdel-Malak Al-Houthi, leader of the Houthi Movement that now controls the north of the country, made no mention of his recent meeting with new UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths, who arrived in the Yemeni capital on Saturday for his first official visit since he was appointed to succeed Ould Cheikh Ahmed who resigned in February.

Before flying to Sanaa, Griffiths travelled to the Saudi capital Riyadh where he met with representatives of the internationally recognised Yemeni government in the hope of restarting negotiations.

According to sources in Sanaa, the Houthis demanded a halt to the Saudi-led Coalition’s bombardments as a precondition for restarting the talks.

At the same time, they fired seven missiles into Saudi Arabia as a way of marking the third anniversary of the Operation that Saudi Arabia launched against them in Yemen three years ago.

According to a communiqué issued by the official spokesman for the coalition, Turki Al-Malki, on Sunday, coalition air forces had tracked seven ballistic missiles fired from Yemeni territory, three in the direction of Riyadh, one in the direction of Khamis Mashit, another in the direction of Najran, and two in the direction of Jazan.

The missiles had been fired off at random with the intention of striking civil and residential targets in Saudi Arabia, but they had all been destroyed by the Saudi airforce, he said.

The Houthi media displayed images of the missile launches, which it said varied from middle to long-range missiles. One video featured the launch of a Burkan 2H long-range missile said to have been fired in the direction of the King Khaled International Airport in Riyadh.

Another was listed as a mid-range Qaher-2M ballistic missile fired in the direction of the Abha Airport in southern Saudi Arabia.

The other missiles were of the Badr1 class and were fired in the direction of the Jazan Airport and other targets. Most of the missiles were Iranian-made and some carried the same name as their Iranian versions, such as the Qaher 2M.

The Houthi missiles, reportedly fired from different locations, were clearly intended to convey a reminder of the Houthis’ missile power, one of their strongest ripostes to Saudi Arabia.

The missile fire occurred while Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman was on a visit to the US, and the US State Department issued a statement on Monday condemning the Houthi missile fire and affirming Washington’s support of its Saudi allies.

Commenting on the display of Houthi missile fire, Egyptian military expert Mohamed Qashqoush observed that had the missiles reached their targets simultaneously it would have meant they were fired from seven different platforms, an indication of the Houthi Movement’s growing expertise.

The ability of the Saudi air defences to intercept the missiles lay in securing the targets rather than the deployment of defences along the border with Yemen, which would be difficult given its length. Because of the intensity of the missile fire there may have been problems in intercepting all the missiles, he said.

Qashqoush said the US would furnish Saudi Arabia with more anti-missile batteries. “There is talk about a missile dome for the Gulf,” he said. “I believe that it is in the US interest to sell these systems [to the Gulf countries] quickly. The subject will be on the agenda during the crown prince’s current visit to the US.”

On the question of the negotiations, a source close to the Yemeni government in Riyadh told Al-Ahram Weekly that the new UN envoy, in his meeting with President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, now living in the Saudi capital, had proposed picking up the talks from the point they left off under Ould Cheikh Ahmed in Kuwait and Muscat.

But the source said that Griffiths wanted to “reengineer” the negotiations even though he did not have a sufficient grasp of the issues, which was why he was meeting with many different people in Riyadh including individuals who had left the political scene such as former Yemeni prime minister Khaled Bahah.

Griffiths also met with representatives of the Southern Movement during a visit to the port of Aden in South Yemen, the source added. “I doubt he will succeed,” the source said.

“The new envoy will spend a lot of time researching details, straying from the strategic points. He is the first envoy who doesn’t know Arabic, which will also be a challenge.”

Khaled Alyan, a Yemeni political analyst who spoke with the Weekly from Riyadh, said Griffiths “will work according to a plan, probably a pre-prepared one. However, it will require some time.”

“The new recipe is basically cooked in the US kitchen” and “it will pave the way for the new US secretary of state playing a part in the coming phase.

We only have to note the meetings the US ambassador is having with Hadi, his Vice President Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, and Prime Minister Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr to see this. All this is a sign of the US recipe that is on its way.”

*This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly 

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