Geopolitics behind the Yemeni war. New front against Iran, Russia, and China
Krassimir Ivandjiiski /Kрасимир Иванджийски/
From our archive. First published in May 2015
The United States, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and England have opened a new war front against Iran, Russia, and China. Here is the truth about the war in Yemen.
А coalition of Sunni states joined the West trying to crush the Houthi rebellion in Yemen by airstrikes since the possible loss of the Horn of Africa will grow into a geopolitical catastrophe for the West.
At the same time, the Yemeni conflict has become a ground of yet indirect collision between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Thus most analysts interpret the situation, which is a pretty much simplification of the subject because it has deep roots, and in fact, this war has never stopped for than 50 years now.
I am probably one of the few, and perhaps the only living journalist, who can link the past and the current conflict.
I will try to explain the above in several successive articles.
There is nothing new under the sun. This battle has been going for centuries. On the one side of the strategic Gulf of Aden lays Somalia, where "pirates" are raging, and Yemen on the other. Significant trade and oil routes of the planet pass in the middle. The English had been here since the Napoleonic wars, with their military base in Aden controlling the way to India and backward.
In the middle of the twentieth century, South Yemenites kicked out the English, and USSR and other socialist countries, including Bulgaria, had taken their place.
Mostly Sunni South Yemen won its independence on November 30, 1967, and set a course for a socialist development while Shia North Yemen remained under the influence of the United States and Saudi Arabia. From now on, this reading requires an utmost attention.
I will tell you again a story that is entirely unknown not only because of the names it mentions.
In the mid-1970s, the President of South Yemen, called these days the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, was Salim Rubai Ali; Secretary General of the National Liberation Front (i.e., the chief ideologist) was Abdul Fattah Ismail, and Prime Minister - Ali Nasir Muhammad.
In 1977, I was in Aden, and as a journalist of the then official newspaper , I had the opportunity to meet all of the leaders mentioned above – the President, the Prime minister, and the Ideologist.
My task was to sort through their relationships as they had plunged into internecine quarreling so typical back then over who is a better friend of the USSR and the socialist countries.
One of them - Ali Nasir Muhammad, made me an interesting goodbye present – a golden watch.
Several months later the President Rubai Ali was overthrown and executed on June 26, 1978. His place took Ali Nasir Muhammad, while Prime minister became the ideologist Fattah Ismail, who in turn later filled the vacancy as Secretary General of the new Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP).
I remember to not being able to get back from that visit of mine in Aden as all flights to South Yemen were canceled.
Some Russians picked me up with their military plain to Cairo, but the Egyptians arrested me because the Russians turned out not to have landing rights.
Later Egyptians let me free but took all my money. However, they did not touch my golden watch (later after 1990 someone stole it from me in Bulgaria).
Meantime, the internal strives between the elites of South Yemen carried on. In 1980, the party leader and Prime Minister Fattah Ismail left to Moscow for a medical treatment.
Ali Nasir Muhammad came into office as General Secretary, and the tension between the two groups piled up.
In 1985, Ismail returned from Moscow and had been elected as a Secretary of the Central Committee, and Ali Nasir Muhammad did not like that fact at all.
At that time I had a reason to revisit Aden because some terrible occurrences soon developed. They refer to the bloodbath that happened on January 13, 1986, during the meeting of their Politburo, and after which tens of thousands of Yemenites had perished, the infrastructure of the country had been destroyed, and about 100,000 emigrated in neighboring North Yemen.
What was the reason for that? The President Ali Nasir Muhammad was losing ground beneath his feet against Fattah Ismail who had come back from Moscow and his group of “oppositionists.”
In his fear to lose hold of power, Ali Nasir Muhammad did not attend the meeting of Politburo that was to open at 10 o’clock in the morning. Instead, he sent his guards who upon entering the conference room opened fire with machine guns at those present.
A “conference room" is an exaggerated expression as it was small cabinet six meters long by six meters wide with a table for 13 people and a small table of the stenographer in the corner.
All “oppositionists” were shot down in the gunfight, and only the future head of PDRY and the Party survived (by the way military people are well aware when someone fires a Kalashnikov within range of several meters).
After the above developments, the country was drowned in bloody battles, and all embassies including those of the socialist countries had been evacuated. Only the guards and some apprentice diplomats left.
No one knew what was going on or why that was happening. At that time, I was in Addis Ababa and Harare as an appointed correspondent for whole Africa. According to the allocation of responsibilities within the Warsaw Pact, South Yemen belonged to the “Bulgarian sphere.”
Moreover, the former English military base in Aden became an essential Soviet base just for the same reasons it had been vital for the USA and England.
May be Later I will tell the reader how I made my way from Addis Ababa to Aden via Djibouti and the strait of Bab-el-Mandeb.
I was the first journalist that had been allowed to the crime scene, i.e., to the conference room of the Politburo. The picture was not at all pleasant looking, and their brains still painted the walls. Probably no one paid attention to the right leg of the stenographer that laid beneath her table cut by Kalashnikovs string of bursts.
Around 3 o'clock in the morning, they took me to a meeting with the future PDRY leader Ali Salem al Beidh, who laid in bed all the time, not of disrespect, but because he got injuries in the rump during the shooting at that meeting. Still, he had survived.
What he had to inform through this conversation reached Sofia, Moscow, and Havana. This time no one gave me away any golden watches.
Several days later at the funeral of the victims of this gunfire, I met Carlos the Jackal with whom we had met a couple of years earlier in Prague. There it was entirely transparent that Mossad manipulated him.
In October 1986, Al Beidh became the actual leader of South Yemen and focused his efforts to stabilize the country. He almost succeeded but the collapse of the USSR left South Yemen with no allies and the state had soon been assimilated by North Yemen, i.e., the United States, which had entrenched themselves more deeply in the Aden Gulf.
The US aimed at gaining control over the shipping routes from the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf past Aden and through the Suez, Mediterranean, and Europe. A narrow strait that controlled half of the world.
In 2010, South Yemen erupted in resistance against the US and the Americans needed just a spark to dump tons of bombs over Yemeni heads. Of course, they quickly fabricated it.
At the same time, on the other side of the Somali Strait, the pirates immediately became active as if by command.
The strategic importance of the Horn of Africa has not changed today. In 1977, Carter issued a decree to create global mobile military forces, which in October 1979 officially received their name as Rapid Deployment Forces. Their first regions of operation were Somali, Egypt, Oman, and Kenya.
On March 1, 1980, the name changed to Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF), and they covered the entire Persian Gulf, Egypt, Sudan, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, South Yemen, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and North Yemen.
That meant that their "responsibility" spread from the Mediterranean Sea, the east coast of Africa, to the west coast of the Indian subcontinent. Only a month later as a response to this geopolitical threat the USSR sent its troops to Afghanistan. The US used that fact to bully the world that the USSR wanted to seize the oil reserves of the Middle East. Zbignev Brzezinski announced his doctrine that "the Soviets should stay away from the Persian Gulf."
That was the exact excuse the US used to wage two wars against Iraq in 1991 and 2003 and justifies their current massive military presence in the Persian Gulf, and preparations for aggression against Iran.
During the Reagan office, the RDF has been transformed into the Central Command (CENTCOM), the first new US regional military command after WWII.
The zone of responsibility of the CENTCOM included Afghanistan, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, UAE, Uzbekistan, Yemen and the region from The Red Sea, the Gulf and to the western Indian Ocean. Until recently, it covered Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, the Seychelles, Somalia, and Sudan but in 2008, all 53 African countries moved under the new African command.
CENTCOM was the primary military force during the two wars against Iraq and the 2001 invasion in Afghanistan.
Iraq and Afghanistan are still within the zone of responsibility of the Command. It has bases in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Oman, Pakistan, Central Asia, and until recently in Djibouti. The operational area stretches in fact from the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, where more than forty percent of the world oil trades pass through, and to the Gulf of Aden with its ten percent of the world shipping and up to the Strait of Malacca, where about 25% of the world's petroleum traded by sea passes through.
Within these frames, it is quite easy to understand what is going on in the region. As the reader could see, things are quite simple. Everything comes down to the world’s oil and the control of the shipping routes from the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf past the coast of Somalia and through Aden and Suez, Mediterranean and Europe.
The escalation of this war has long been expected. Recent events in the region of the Horn of Africa give grounds to assume that the US and its allies are starting to form a new system to guarantee their oil supplies.
The growth of NATO's group close to coasts of Somalia is accompanied by establishing of new oil drilling and piping systems in the surrounding areas led by Saudi Arabia.
As far as resources in the Horn of Africa are concerned, South Sudan has the largest and highest quality reserves.
There are significant oil and gas fields are in Ogaden (Eastern Ethiopia) and the Eritrea Shelf. In 1940, the English were first to discover the Ogaden oil and that was why they kept their soldiers there until the end of the 1940s.
In the second half of the 1980s, with the cooperation of the USSR and China, Somalia was third in Africa in exploration and drilling of oil and gas. After the collapse of the country, these operations were discontinued, and all archives disappeared, and suddenly emerged in Western companies that would soon resume oil-field exploration in Somalia.
It is important to note that virtually all petroleum resources of the African Horn are of the highest quality and cheap in the world regarding cost, extraction, and transportation. Also, the refineries and terminals in the region do not operate at full capacity. In other words, some factors determine the maximum competitiveness of the Horn of Africa and equatorial Africa in the US oil supply. Third, for many years 25 percent of the volumes of oil shipped to NATO and Japan pass through the Horn of Africa.
After this retrospection, I want to return to present days where the efforts to reach an agreement on Iran's nuclear program, the war in Ukraine, the actions of Saudi Arabia on the oil market, the emergence of China as the world’s top oil importer and recent events in Yemen create an entirely new picture and form a flow that strongly influences and will continue to impact the global economy and geopolitics.
In the new geopolitical balance of power, deterioration of the political climate in the region was inevitable. Yemen has once again become an over burning point. External forces once still set on the war in this country.
That is a classic situation in which, in certain parts of the world, the Anglo-Saxons come in using local puppets and agents. As I already mentioned, until 1990, there were two Yemen States –Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) and People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen).
The former, although Shiah, was oriented towards Saudi Arabia and the United States, while the latter (Sunni) to the socialist countries. After the disintegration of the USSR by Gorbachev and Yeltsin, the West quickly appropriated the entire geopolitical heritage of the USSR. In 1994, Yemen united and Ali Abdullah Saleh stood at the head of the country.
Under the new conditions, however, this unification did not resolve the situation, as Yemen houses the two main currents of Islam - Sunni, which are 52 percent, and Shiah, which number 46 percent of the population. That is why the war in Yemen now also carries a religious shade and is divided into multiple clans.
Saleh ruled the country during 1990’s until the “Arab spring” initiated by the US, brought him down in 2011. Americans were actively helping wreaking havoc.
After deposing the government of Saleh, the Yemeni cauldron violently boiled out resulting in expel of the new President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi in March 2015.
Here we have to note emergence of a new moment.
Hadi was brought down by the new structure of the Houthis, Ansar Allah, which portrayed itself as Shiah, but which is instead a symbiosis between Shia and Sunni, which is something new to Yemen. The group began to gain momentum after 2014 and made a triumphant procession throughout the country. The government was taken, Hadi escaped to Saudi Arabia and started calling on the US and Saudis to invade Yemen. Iran, in its opposition to Saudi Arabia, expectedly stood behind the Houthis.
In fact, the Saudis began to prepare for a wide-ranging regional war much earlier. In 2006, Saudi Arabian military budget was US$ 31 billion, in 2010 - 45 billion, in 2012 - 53 billion, in 2014 - 65 billion. I will remind the audience that the military budget of Russia is US$ 55 billion.
The development of the situation in Yemen was accompanied by the US offensive against Russia, China and Iran, the coup in Ukraine and installation of the Zionist pro-American junta in Kiev, inciting of war in Donbass, introduction of sanctions against Russia and the collapse of oil prices, which is a concerted operation of Saudis and Washington, and etcetera.
Russia of course responded, and on January 20, 2015, the Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu paid a visit to Teheran and signed an agreement to deliver S-300 surface-to-air missile systems. Iran was helping Houthis, not for the first time.
Immediately on February 10, 2013, the US accused Iran to supply arms to one of the parties involved in the conflict and namely to Houthis. Houthis are a military wing of one of the Shiah Sects of the Zaydis. The name of the sect comes from the name of Zayd Ibn Ali, the grandson of Husain, the fifth brother of the Shiah Imam Muhammad al-Baqir. The Zaydis mainly live in the north of Yemen and account for about a third of the country's 25 million population. Sunni are mostly in the south and west of the country.
In fact, the Houthis have been in Yemen for a long time, but only after the US and Saudi Arabia have stepped in, the real successes have begun to come to this movement. They took the country under their control and went to the borders of Saudi Arabia and on the shores of Bab el-Mandab strait. Across the border lays the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, where most of the Saudi oil is extracted, and which is predominantly inhabited by Shias. From the point of view of the United States and Riyadh, Iran has anchored at a strategically important position on the Red Sea coast.
It is also a severe threat to Israel and its submarines, which sail this route on their way to the Persian Gulf. All these concurrencies lead to an open military aggression of Saudi Arabia against Yemen.
On March 26, Saudi Arabia and some Gulf countries launched a military operation in Yemen, "on demand" by the fugitive President Hadi to protection from the Houthis. Saudi Arabia engaged 100 aircrafts and 150,000 troops. Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE also sent some soldiers, and Egypt is ready to provide air support. However, Saudi Arabia is too weak to confront Iran.
To avoid any misunderstanding, the US formally declared that the war in Yemen was also “their war.” No one has ever hesitated that Americans would miss this war.
Right now, it is difficult to foresee the future progress, and there are many variants possible. As for the Middle East, this war is a step forward to a chaos in the region. Until the world remains dependent on the oil of the Middle East the region will always face turmoil and all sorts of military forces, local or foreign, will stay in the Strait of Hormuz.
It is still not apparent what role the US and Israel will give to the local al-Qaeda, which by the way slowly slips off their control.
Yemen swamps into a civil war that shall become a new episode of the confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia. (Russia has long ago lost its real levers of influence on the Horn).
Maybe the time has come to remember the “map of Colonel Peters.” Some political analysts at the beginning of the “Arab spring” really goofed on that, but now in 2015, it turns into a bad omen about future fate of the Middle East.