At the beginning of the month, the highly influential former President of Yemen Abdullah Saleh was assassinated in one of his residences. It is reported that his body was demonstrated to the people to show them that the “traitor” was murdered, while making “an attempt to escape.” It is believed that this longtime Yemeni strongman was shot by a Houthi sniper.
Anyone who’s familiar with the Houthi resistance movement would be quick to point out that this murder doesn’t fall in the pattern of typical steps that this group would make. As a matter of fact, such an approach to taking down a target is typical for professional hitmen, hired by an external power to “handle tricky affairs” in a particular fashion. It’s no secret that this latest murder will prove to be highly beneficial for at least two external players – Saudi Arabia and Israel that have dreaded the Houthi resistance as a source of Tehran’s power in the south of the Arabian Peninsula for a really long time. These two states have long been seeking for a pretext to launch strikes against Iranian forces in Syria, along with nuclear facilities deep within the territory of Iran. All that Riyadh and Tel-Aviv have been craving for was a pretext, and now they have one exactly to their liking
All through the last month, various media source across the region would report an extensive amount of meeting between Saudi and Israeli secret services taking place, aimed at establishing a common position on the ongoing stand-off with Iran. Apparently, an emergence of such a position resulted in the Saudi-led coalition bombing Yemeni presidential palace and a number of government buildings that would have been left untouched through the years of Saudi aggression against Yemen. Apparently, Saudi royal family wanted to make a point with those air strikes that the old Yemen is not to be found anywhere now, while the new on has nothing but war ahead of it. Saudi Arabia has been in desperate need to find a state scrape goat to redirect the outrage of the international community provoked by the massive civilian death toll, and now the Houthis are going to be forced into playing such a role.
Now pretty much everyone tries to predict the future of the Yemeni conflict after the murder of Abdullah Saleh. But to make such a prediction one must examine the reasons behind the Yemeni war and establish the degree of interference that states like Saudi Arabia and Iran have shown so far..
The problem of Yemen is critical one, as there’s a massive gap between the industrial south that serves a home to some 20% of the total population of Yemen and the archaic north. The gap has never been overcome. Moreover, the so-called “Arab Spring” caught the country while it was still in the transitional period triggering a number of serious controversies within the Yemeni society. It is not that difficult to understand how the “Arab Spring” in Yemen has almost immediately transferred from the stage of urban population demanding their rights into a bitter inter-tribal feud. Under these circumstances, Yemen rolled back to its most stable position in no time, with the industrialized South opposing the tribal North. And Abdullah Saleh how to steer the country across this storm by striking a deal with the Houthis, thus obtaining the means to control the most archaic power of Yemen. Frankly speaking, if Saudi Arabia invasion hadn’t launched its invasion, the longtime strongman would most certainly be able to reach a safe harbor, since there’s has been no man in Yemen who would enjoy similar authority.
The murder of Saleh is mysterious in every sense. There is no internal logic in it, since the Houthis have no chances survive both politically and physically without Saleh’s support Now that they’ve pulled the short end of the stick, just like ISIS they can only count on the situation in Yemen getting really terrible as it may allow the survive the onslaught politically.
If the Houthis were indeed behind the murder of the former President of Yemen, they have indeed achieved a small tactical victory but at the same time outlawed themselves. With Saleh they had a chance for a political settlement, alone they would ultimately be crushed no matter how painfully hard they will fight, as every single other tribe be forced to join the forces aiming at eradicating the Houthis.
There’s no scenario under which Tehran could assassinate of Saleh, since his death created a long list of challenges that can hardly be overcome. Qatar, for example, has never been pardoned for stagging the assassination of Muammar Gaddafi. This former Libyan leader was eccentric and it was almost impossible to reason with him, but he was a sheikh of the highest nobility, and therefore someone had to be held responsible for his murder. The then Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani had to abandon his post solely due to this murder. Saleh in the Middle East table of ranks was standing even higher than Gaddafi, so the people of the region will find the one responsible sooner or later and will force him to answer for his actions.
Now that all of Yemeni tribes are going to be forced to unite against the Houthis, Yemen will be closed for Iranian influence, as any ties with Tehran are going to be punished. Saudi Arabia and the Arab League have received the right to push all pro-Iranian forces out of Yemen, but they will not be allowed to affect the internal feud in any way. But at this point Riyadh has ultimately achieved its goal, as Iran would be pushed out of Yemen and the Houthis will be destroyed, and the fact that weapons to the latter were supplied by the Saleh clan is only making the matter worse for them. The Houthis would still be able to fight with weapons they capture, but they won’t last for long. The only thing that the Saudi-led coalition will have to do to finish them off is by introducing a naval blockade of northern Yemen. This will not be easy, but the Royal Saudi Navy is quite capable and the purely symbolic Houthi fleet is no match to this force. Then, after finishing the Houthis off, Yemeni elites will get back to their inter-tribal feud, but from now on Saudi Arabia will be the only judge they would appeal to.
There are reports that the son of the former President Ahmed Saleh has already sent a number of the Republican Guard units to the north of the country, that are now approaching Marib. Apparently, the army and the guards are going to act together for the first time since 2011, when General Ali Mohsen raised a rebellion against the now deceased President. What we are witnessing is re-union of former opponents – the Marib and Saleh clans.
After the collapse of the coalition between the Houthis and Abdullah Saleh, all the existing maps depicting zones of control over the Yemeni territory have now lost all relevance. The south with the center in Aden is still going to be controlled by the forces of the exiled President Mansour Hadi , the north with the center in Sadah is still the territory of the Al-Houthi clan, while the center and the east of the country are now the zone disputed by the Saleh and Al-Houthi clans. In fact, Yemen from a country traditionally divided between two capitals – southern Aden and northern Sana’a – is becoming a country of three capitals, with Sadah being added to the list. It is possible that Sadah will be the subject of controversy in the future, but it’s still too early to tell as the main battles are yet to come.