Restoring former leadership in Yemen and targeting Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula are the real objectives of “Protective Edge”, says Bilal Ahmed, associate editor of Souciant.com
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and Secretary of State John Kerry jointly announced a five-day renewable ceasefire for humanitarian aid in Yemen. The announcement was made after John Kerry met with King Salman in Riyadh on Thursday. After almost a month of bombing Yemen on April 21st, Saudi Arabia announced an end to Operation Decisive Storm, which began March 25th, saying the interventions would now shift from military operations to the political process. The Saudi-U.S. coalition partner said they would be launching political and peace efforts in the country, which they called Operation Restoring Hope. However, the coalition did not rule out using force, saying it would respond to threats to prevent the Houthi militants from operating within Yemen. Air strikes and shelling against Houthi targets continued under Restoring Hope with one of the aerial attacks destroying the main runway at Sana’a International Airport. And according to Human Rights Watch, the fighting has thus far killed 311 civilians and displaced over 300,000 people. Now joining us to unpack the events and what it means to Yemenis caught up in the U.S.-led Saudi attacks is Bilal Ahmed. Bilal is an associate editor of Souciant.com. He is a Ph.D. student at SOAS, at the University of London. Bilal, thanks so much for joining us. BILAL AHMED, GRADUATE STUDENT, UNIV. OF LONDON: Glad to be here. PERIES: So Bilal, Kerry met earlier on Thursday in the Saudi capital not only with King Salman but also with Yemen’s exiled president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and his vice president and foreign minister. Now, is all this thus far an effort to restore the former leadership back in Yemen? AHMED: Yes, I believe that’s exactly what’s going on. There was a leak from a UN diplomat a couple of weeks ago who talked about how the timing of Protective Edge was actually rather interesting because it seemed that warring parties in Yemen had come to a point where they were nearly at an agreement with the Houthis to share power amongst themselves. And this didn’t necessarily involve Hadi or his government. So you could argue that part of what’s been going on is that Hadi was arranged to request outside military assistance that was realized through this Saudi-led coalition that is now going to restore him at the head of state power in Sana’a. PERIES: Bilal, one of the statements also made is that there would have to be no assistance provided to the Houthis by the Iranians, and that the ceasefire is contingent on that. What do you make of that? AHMED: Well, I think what we have to remember is that this insistence that the Iranians are sponsoring the Houthis directly and have been doing so for quite some time is purely rhetoric on the part of many of the actors involved in this conflict. There are WikiLeaks documents dating back to at least 2009 that show that the U.S.-Canada embassy in Sana’a has been fully aware that although the Houthis get some level of assistance from the Iranians, the main source of their weapons and the main source of their supplies is the black market operating in the region, and indeed the Yemeni military itself. I believe it gives that exact quote. And the recipient of those cables are basically every government that’s involved in this conflict right now. Saudi Arabia receives those cables in Riyadh, and the Central Intelligence Agency received those cables as well. So even though there has been Iranian assistance in the past, and there’s reason to believe that it’s intensified now especially as the Houthis need to leverage themselves better against Hadi’s government, we have to remember that a large part of what’s going on is that the Houthis are being painted as a foreign entity in Yemen that’s trying to gain power for another foreign entity. And that’s a gross mischaracterization, and one that I suspect is only gaining traction because the Houthis happen to have a Shi’i religious framework. And people simply say, oh, Shi’i Iran, Shi’i Houthis, naturally they’re married together. And a lot of the sectarian rhetoric depends on something that crude. PERIES: Now Bilal, one of the reasons for invading and attacking Yemen is that this is one of the allies the U.S. and the Saudis have in the region to fight the IS. Now, how important is that base in Yemen, and what more do we know about that affiliation with the former government? AHMED: Well, I think that it’s actually a little complicated as far as the United States goes. Saudi Arabia certainly does favor having Hadi in charge. He’s able to shape the revolution in ways that won’t directly threaten many of Saudi Arabian interests in the country and many GCC interests in the country, and still give it somewhat of a democratic character. The United States certainly has interest in that for the security of its other allies in the region. However, the United States, and especially the White House, is also fully aware that one of the things that’s happened as a result of this war with the Houthis that Saudi Arabia has been pressing for through this coalition that it’s assembled together is that efforts targeting and destroying Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have actually been suspended because everyone’s simply busy trying to deal with the Houthis. And the Houthis are busy as well, trying to deal with a war that they’re fighting on multiple fronts. They are fighting tribal forces in Ma’rib. They’re fighting Hadi’s loyalists in Aden, and just secured a key sector of the city. And they’re also trying to resist the Saudi-led bombings. And the missing factor in all of that is AQAP, which is functioning in the eastern provinces and recently took control of the port city of Al Mukalla in the, closer to Hadhramaut, which is way outside of where the current spectrum of fighting is for this immediate war, but requires much more energy than is being devoted to it. And that’s not possible as long as this war is continuing, because it’s just distracting everything away from that group which is, as I’ve said before, the United States’s central interest in Yemen. PERIES: And in terms of the reports you’re hearing on the ground, how successful has the U.S.-led Saudi attacks on Yemen been thus far? AHMED: I would say that they haven’t been successful in any stretch of the imagination. And that any argument that they were successful relies on increasingly bizarre forms of political rhetoric. You have reports coming out by Human Rights Watch blasting not just the Houthis who are seemingly participating in war crimes in Aden, but also blasting the Saudi coalition for using U.S.-bought and U.S.-manufactured cluster bombs in their aerial raids over large sections of northern Yemen. The Yemeni diaspora has been up in arms about this war. The hashtag support Yemen in [kefaya] war is partially motivated simply by this extremely active group. And Yemenis on the ground are not pleased with basically anyone involved in any area of the fighting. You could argue that the Houthis, the United States and Saudi Arabia are all tied for the worst and most-hated political authority in Yemen. It’s a three-way tie. This war has not gone well. And it also hasn’t gone well in Saudi Arabia. You have a really major shift in the King’s cabinet that just happened, and it’s–you can very easily argue that a large part of the reason why so many people were moved from so many posts and why some people were asked to resign altogether is because of their opinions on the war in Yemen. King Salman is really not taking any chances with this. You could argue that was even a palace coup, and King Salman really cleared house based on who would and wouldn’t side with him when it came to the war in Yemen. This just has gone in a direction that I don’t think anyone in the Saudi hardliner front that pushed for this war could have anticipated. Even reliable allies in the coalition such as Pakistan have parliaments that ultimately voted against it. Or like Egypt, simply started asking for increased stipulations that Saudi Arabia could not possibly meet to secure their role in the coalition. Erdogan’s Turkey was never even on the same page from the beginning. PERIES: Bilal, thank you so much for joining us and shedding so much light on what’s going on. And we hope to have you back very soon. AHMED: Absolutely. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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