Middle East in Focus
The seizure of Yemen's port city of Aden by the Southern Transitional Council (STC) has sparked fresh concerns about the ability of anti-Houthi forces to create a united front and to claw back territory from the Iranian-backed Houthis. The STC is a long-running political movement in Yemen seeking the establishment of an independent South Yemen which has in recent times decided to ally with the Saudi-backed pro-government forces. However, last week's actions, in addition to risking any progress made so far, appear to have turned against the Council even those who may sympathize with STC's aspirations.
Opining for Arab News, Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is one of those who believe that STC's actions have been counterproductive for both the alliance as well as their own interests: "South Yemen has the right to seek to establish an independent state, but the STC's actions reinforce the Houthi coup and Iran's infiltration, perpetuate the civil war, and threaten to open new war fronts in Yemen with the support of Qatar and Turkey. It is a dangerous development that also threatens the security of the regional countries, primarily Saudi Arabia.... In effect, the STC shot itself in the foot and hit its project in the heart, raising suspicions and wounding its regional relationship.... None of the STC's excuses justifies the coup, or else it would have accepted the Houthi coup and struck a deal with the rebels and others who are seeking to rule Yemen."
Others, like this Gulf News editorial, find that STC's actions, condemnable in their own right, are also merely the latest manifestation of the devastation wrought upon Yemen as a result of the Houthi insurgency and Iranian meddling in Yemen: "The internecine fighting in and around Aden does nothing to meet the challenges facing the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. The Southern Transitional Council must not resort to arms but instead turn to dialogue to air their grievances and resolve their differences. The southern forces' attacks on the presidential palace and government military camps will only aid the work of Al Houthi terrorists, further the long-term strategic goals of the regime in Tehran, and make the coalition's mission more difficult.... This outbreak of violence is but one symptom of the mayhem wrought by Al Houthis, a conflict that has been fueled with weapons and material supplied by Tehran to propagate the regime's sectarian agenda. And it's the people of Yemen who pay the price for Iran's pursuit of hegemony in this region."
The National's editorial follows a similar line of reasoning, while stressing the unhappiness of the Saudis for last week's actions: "This week, developments in Aden showed once again how difficult the situation in Yemen is. The fragmentation amongst Yemeni political actors stems largely from Houthi intransigence and refusal to engage seriously in a political process that can get Yemen on to a path of stability.... Since the civil war broke out in 2015, Yemen has had more than its share of violence and calamity. Cholera outbreaks, famine and poverty have become commonplace, prompting the UN to describe the conflict as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. More division can only add to the woes of Yemenis. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have sent a strong message to their allies in the conflict, asserting that the clashes in Aden can only impede de-escalation efforts. It is now up to the parties to reassess their strategy and settle their differences at the negotiating table, rather than on the streets of Aden."
The Iranians for their part have tried to shield themselves from any responsibility regarding last week's violence. In a statement released by Press TV, Iran's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Moussavi was quick to point his finger at the Saudi government and its allies in the region, while emphasizing that Iran wanted a unified Yemen: "The coalition of Saudi and Emirati invaders, along with their mercenaries, who have over the past five years failed to break the will of people by using advanced weaponry, massacre and massive destruction and now see their defeat in the face of the spirit of resistance and resilience of people across Yemen, are seeking to partition Yemen through a suspicious plot."
Those remarks reflected comments made earlier by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who according to a Tehran Times report, made the remarks in a meeting with Mohammed Abdulsalam, the spokesman for Yemen's Ansarullah and chief negotiator of the National Salvation Government. The Leader also said Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are seeking to break up Yemen and this should be strongly resisted. "They are after dividing up Yemen, but there must be a strong resistance against this plot and (it is necessary to) support an integrated, united Yemen with its territorial integrity,the Leader asserted. Ayatollah Khamenei added, protecting the Yemeni territorial integrity in view of its diverse religious and ethnic diversity entails intra-Yemeni dialogue."
As if the ongoing violence was not enough, international news agencies have revealed in recent days rampant and systemic corruption within the UN agencies working in Yemen, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF): "An internal report documents that WHO employees diverted food, medicine, fuel and money away from those supposed to receive help. More than a dozen UN workers sent to Yemen are instead accused of collaborating with combatants to benefit financially from billions of aid dollars flowing into the country.... A second investigation is focused on another UN agency, Unicef, and a report that one staffer allowed a Houthi rebel commander to travel in a UN vehicle so that he could be shielded from possible military attack. The credibility of the UN's procedures, as well as its overall role, has been left in question."