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Through Guns Saudi Arabia and Iran "Negotiate" in Yemen

World  (tags: Arab World, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Houthi, Zaydi, Sunni, Shiite, Al Qaeda, Ghassan Rubeiz, Gulf States, religion )

- 1513 days ago -
The Houthi struggle for justice is unfairly portrayed as sectarian initiative. The Houthis are Zaydi, a Shiite sect seeking equality in a Sunnite-majority state who are close to moderate Sunnites in their spiritual outlook & a primary opponent of Al Qaeda


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Evelyn B (63)
Friday May 29, 2015, 12:21 am
Through guns Saudi Arabia and Iran “negotiate” in Yemen

Posted on May 28, 2015 by Ghassan Rubeiz

Yemen reflects growing war between Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries, and Iran, and between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslim sects. But divided Arab World can’t keep ISIS in check
By Ghassan Michel Rubeiz

East Meredith, NY — Saudi Arabia has responded to the coup in Yemen as nothing but another instance of Iran’s “hegemony” in the Arab world, through its support of Houthi “agents”. On March 25 Riyadh mobilized a multinational retaliatory air attack on the rebels.

From their home region in the north the Houthis had proceeded to conquer, stage by stage, a large section of Yemen over the past several months, ending in coup d’etat. The rebels are now overextended and not uniformly welcomed nationwide.

The Houthi struggle for justice is unfairly portrayed as a sectarian initiative. The Houthis are Zaydi, a Shiite sect seeking equality in a Sunnite-majority state. However, the Zaydis are not far from the moderate Sunnites in their spiritual outlook. They are a primary opponent of Al Qaeda combatants in Yemen.

Through a relentless air campaign Saudi Arabia has halted this coup, but the underlying causes of the conflict have not been resolved. The resulting stalemate is responsible for a rapidly worsening humanitarian crisis in a very poor and deeply divided country.

Directly or indirectly, Yemen engages US-backed Saudi Arabia, Iran, other Gulf states and four other Sunnite-majority Arab countries. If not checked, Yemen’s hostilities could precipitate a regional war, or it could derail the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran at their very final stage.

Iran responds to this recently mobilized “Sunnite” coalition of nine Arab countries by supplying arms to the coup leaders; Tehran also backs them diplomatically. But Iran, like Saudi Arabia and the US, has no interest in generating turmoil in Yemen.

Washington has blessed Riyadh’s new gun diplomacy. It should be noted that, not long ago, it was the joint diplomacy of Washington and Riyadh which orchestrated a quick fix for the Arab Spring revolt in Yemen. The power transition formula was simple: West friendly Vice President Hadi replaced the dictator President Saleh.

Due to continued air bombardment as well as non-stop fighting on the ground- between pro-government factions of President Hadi and supporters of the coup- rushed diplomatic plans for a United Nations conference for May 28 in Geneva had been cancelled.

The Saudis have not yet achieved their military goals in Yemen and they are not likely to succeed soon. The coup leaders would negotiate but not retreat. Over many decades the Houthis, who constitute a third of Yemeni society, had tried to seek a fair share in governance, but they had been ignored.

Meanwhile, the AlQaeda fighters, who are a third force to contend with in Yemen, are gaining strength in the eastern and central regions of Yemen.

The Saudi leaders are mindful of the impact of Houthi developments on the internal stability of their nation: political awakening of an oppressed Shiite minority in the Eastern province of the Kingdom. The ongoing Saudi assault on the Houhtis could invigorate the solidarity bond between the two Shiite communities of Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

In the Yemen civil war all parties are likely to lose ultimately, except for the radical Islamists. The spread of terror in the Mideast is alarming. In protracted civil wars existentially threatened populations are easily seduced by militant liberation theology which makes community survival contingent on submission.

What is happening in Yemen is taking place elsewhere in the region. Radical groups have established quasi state structures in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya. If not checked, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL, and other radical groups could penetrate the rest of the Fertile Crescent area, namely, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. From Yemen Al Qaeda could sow instability in Saudi Arabia and the wider Gulf region.

From Libya the radical Islamists could initiate trouble in the rest of north Africa.

It is ironic that the Saudi-led approach to the Houthis is copying the US military approach against radical terror groups while Washington, itself, is reviewing its drone-dominated strategy of “war on terror”.

To defeat the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, a ground regional offensive could succeed, where many other approaches have so far failed. Collectively, land troops from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey could reverse the progress of ISIL within weeks. But regrettably, no such smart efforts will come about in the near future, given the demoralized and divided rulers of the Arab states. It is all the more reason why Saudi Arabia and Iran must set aside their historic rivalry to address the Yemen crisis.

As a primary exporter of arms to the Arab Gulf nations the US is not neutral in the Yemen conflict. Washington should try hard to convince Saudi Arabia to work with Iran on mutual interests.

Saudi Arabia is incurring a heavy economic and moral cost in leading and financing a devastating military operation in Yemen. The current political demands of the rebels may not be realistic but they are understandable and amenable to change.

If a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Yemen is achieved soon enough international aid and economic empowerment from neighboring oil-rich, Gulf states would be urgently needed. More importantly, the political solution would require equitable power sharing among the central Yemeni tribes, parties and ethnic communities.

Dr. Ghassan Rubeiz is an Arab-American writer, journalist and commentator on issues of development, peace and justice. He is the former Middle East Secretary of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches.

Past Member (0)
Saturday May 30, 2015, 9:12 pm
Thank you Evelyn,

It is a good article. The hope that Saudis and Iranians will forget their differences is naive, but good.

Sam H (410)
Sunday May 31, 2015, 1:50 am
The indiscriminate targeting of the Yemenis by the Saudis is only exceeded by Israel's barbaric targeting of the Palestinians.

No wonder there's an emerging alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia aimed at sabotaging Obama's nuclear deal with Iran.

John De Avalon (36)
Sunday May 31, 2015, 3:00 am
Much like Israel, the solution is not the clenched fist but the hand of friendship.

Peace through compromise and tolerance.

Past Member (0)
Sunday May 31, 2015, 1:14 pm

Janet B (0)
Sunday May 31, 2015, 1:49 pm

Roslyn McBride (26)
Monday June 1, 2015, 4:09 am
Seems like usual method to "negotiate" now.

Thomas M (8)
Monday June 1, 2015, 6:57 am
Although I am a conehead and simpleton, I say the US should stay out of the Middle East until the dust clears. That would be about the Year 3999 or beyond. Protect our own borders, commercial routes, air traffic to other nations and leave the religious fanatics to themselves. We should not spend one more nickel on international aid to foreign countries in the region to include Israel. We need to deal with China and Russia. We will NEVER influence peace in the Middle East.

Stephen Brian (23)
Monday June 1, 2015, 7:57 am
Hi Thomas :)

I hope this quick (yeah, I know, really long) summary can help explain the U.S.'s continued presence in the Middle East in those terms.

Commercial routes include the Mediterranean-Suez Canal-Red Sea-Gulf of Aden route between Europe and Asia. Yemen, Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia and of course Egypt sit on top of he narrowest points in that where ships are most vulnerable to land-based or coastal attacks. Major aerial transit-hubs require the support-infrastructure of advanced economies found in developed countries like Israel and the wealthy parts of the UAE.

A large part of the U.S.'s power on the international stage comes from its ability to deploy serious forces anywhere on Earth, and that comes from its navy and foreign basing. Just to be clear, those are not the kinds of forces seen in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the U.S. uses counterinsurgency approaches. these are the vastly deadlier sorts of forces intended for peer-warfare. The U.S. Fifth Fleet, which maintains its influence in South Asia, the Middle East, and the Horn of Africa is based in Bahrain, an island between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Fully closing borders would be incredibly costly and leave the U.S. unable to deal with any other issues. It is also likely impossible. To maintain its own security, the U.S. must address threats before they reach its soil, in thei locations of origin. That includes the Middle East, and pretty much the entire region once held by the Abassid Caliphate, except Israel, maybe Turkey, and hopefully soon Tunisia. That is split between the areas to which the Fifth and Sixth Fleets can deploy. Take those out of the picture, and U.S. security becomes much tougher.

Then there's the oil. Without Middle Eastern oil, Russia becomes the dominant, and nearly only, supplier of oil to the E.U. There was an attempt to counter this with Ukrainian oil in Crimea, but then Russia took control of those. To keep Russia from effectively taking control of most of Europe, we need the Middle East supplying oil. The U.S. consumes the bulk of what it produces and needs oil for the trucks and ships that carry food to its cities. I haven't run the numbers, but exporting that oil to Europe to counter Russia may mean famine in the U.S.

U.S. aid to Israel is not quite what it seems. The U.S. government buys equipment from U.S. manufacturers which is then sent to Israel, and displaces, in Israeli military use, Israeli-manufactured military equipment. The interesting side of this is that without the aid, the Israeli arms-industry would grow substantially with those domestic purchases, and Israeli weapon and other tactical (though not logistic) equipment are actually on-level with those of NATO. With that aid, the U.S. prevents the growth of a potential major competitor in the arms-industry, effectively protecting its dominance there with subsidies.

Evelyn B (63)
Monday June 1, 2015, 8:13 am
Tom - I'd tend to agree with you - although not with quite so long a time frame! But US credibility is very low, at least as a "neutral" broker for peace. If peace were a primary concern, then stepping back to allow another more credible "lead" in peace efforts would be very wise.

However, Stephen has pointed out a factor that undermines such wisdom: oil!! I don't fully agree with all his interpretation & analysis, but oil is certainly a major underlying consideration!

Stephen Brian (23)
Monday June 1, 2015, 8:26 am
Back on topic, the article first says that the Saudis and the Iran are "negotiating" through proxy-war in Yemen, but then goes on to say that they are actually on the same side in that conflict. Either Iran is supporting the Houthis or it's not. This is not a game of "We want a rebellion, but then we want it defeated militarily". Not only does that make no sense, but worsening the political position of Shiites in the Arab world reduces Iranian influence due to the association there.

I do hope they can work things out, and that matters can settle down peacefully in Yemen at least for a while. Honestly, the whole matter with the Houthis looks like something that could be handled diplomatically, a rare and very hopeful sight in the Middle East. Entirely aside form that, I very much hope to see more friendly relations between Iran and others in the region in general.

Hi Sam :)

Quit trying to call Israel worse than everything before you look any more ridiculous. In a region with ISIS and Assad's regime, your comment is absurd. Are you getting paid to make these ridiculous claims? You're not that dumb. That's why, for a direct comparison, I'm not even going to bother with primary-source verification. From Wikipedia: 200 rebel casualties as of May 1, and 666 dead in Saudi air-strikes as of the same time.

Even assuming every single Houthi casualty from the intervention were from the air-strikes, which is definitely overly generous to the Saudi air-force, we're talking about a 2.33:1 civilian-to-militant death-ratio (civilian death-toll adjusted for the scale of the operation). To get the same ratio, running by U.N. numbers, Israel would have to have killed 204 more Palestinian civilians last summer.

Evelyn B (63)
Monday June 1, 2015, 11:21 am
Stephen - you didn't read carefully. What you misunderstood to imply that Saudi & Iran are on the side was merely listing all parties engaged - on one side or another. So your analysis then slews off base.

You're slipping when you start accusing people of being "paid" to comment - you know better than that.

And Saudi has taken the same line as Israel on calls for intensifying sanctions gainst Iran (there were even a number of articles on the subject in late 2013) - so that comment was valid.


Darren Woolsey (218)
Tuesday June 2, 2015, 12:43 am
Says a lot about human evolution when you have to negotiate using a gun. . .

Shared on facebook and twittersphere.

Stephen Brian (23)
Tuesday June 2, 2015, 2:28 pm
Hi Evelyn :)

Sorry about that: I misread the section around "Tehran also backs them diplomatically." I thought it meant the coalition and then saw the part about how neither Iran nor the Saudis really want trouble in Yemen.

I still hope for a peaceful resolution to the conflict there. From what I understand, the Houthis' primary demands, basic political freedoms, were denied to everybody in Yemen until recently. If the style of governance changes, while full political freedom is extremely unlikely to arise, they may at least get some increase and visible equality with the rest of the country.

Evelyn B (63)
Tuesday June 2, 2015, 3:42 pm
The tribal groups in Yemen have suffered frequent injustices & discrimination - not having an effective voice in government. I've often been struck by similarities between mountain tribal groups in NW Pakistan & in Yemen, not least being the way that they have used hostage-taking as a way of trying to provoke action to correct situations they find intolerable.

Being taken hostage in Yemen is very different from the hostage situations of Lebanon, or Latin America ... The hostage takers usually consider the hostage as a "guest" ... But the "guest" is expected to be courteous in accepting the "hospitality"!! If not ... treatment can turn nasty. Because it is extremely offensive to refuse hospitality in this culture!!

A friend of mine once made the mistake of stepping into the garden of a Yemeni village chief. Invited into the house, he was offered tea, which he accepted. Then he wanted to leave - his research teams were working and he needed to check on them. "Lunch, first", he was told. He tried to explain that he had work ... and found himself facing a barrage of Kaleshnikov barrels. "Lunch first". So he ate his lunch ... and was then able to leave & get on with his work!

Yes, the Houthis demands seem reasonable, and if a more equitable representation can be ensured, things could move forward. But there are so many layers to problems in the ME ....

And what is "full political freedom"? How many countries really have this - without pressure from specific interest groups (political, religious, financial) covertly or overtly blocking free speech?

One time, a UN driver told me "Sitt Evelyn, we do have democracy in Yemen! We have George Bush style of democracy! We have the right to agree with our President!" .....

Stephen Brian (23)
Friday June 5, 2015, 10:46 am
It is an interesting culture where the refusal of hospitality is so offensive that the levelling of guns is considered an appropriate response. I guess that goes back to the old tribal war-days. Maybe the refusal of hospitality used to imply an intent to go to war.

Full political freedom is definitely a tricky thing because one person's freedom ends where another's begins, and there are reasonable arguments on multiple sides as to where that should be. If people have the right to organize for political advocacy and communicate with legislators, then the existence of special interest-groups or influential communities becomes inevitable, and, being organized, they will speak louder than do others. If this goes far enough, they can drown out other voices and making others' speech, while permitted, meaningless. Short of forbidding people from organizing, there is no way around it.

I was just thinking of formal democracy. If leading parties decide to agree on major issues, as often happens, there is nothing anybody can do about it. Still, a system where we can vote freely at least leaves open the possibility of self-determination.

Evelyn B (63)
Friday June 5, 2015, 8:57 pm
You could be right, Stephen - these are tribal people, and "honour" includes being hospitable, generous .... Remember, there was an equivalent in Europe ... eating the salt, a sign of peaceful intent ....

In the tribal areas of NW Pakistan,it is an "honour" to offer hospitality to a travelling stranger. A traveller can go to the mosque to pray (or, I believe, to the community "house" - which sometimes IS the mosque or is attached to it) ... and the first person to meet him will usually offer a meal. A friend of mine arrived in a village, went to pray ... and someone offered him a meal. He accepted, and settled down to wait. Some time went by, and someone else came by - and offered him something to eat & drink. Since there was no sign of the first person returning, & he was hungry, he said "yes, please!" The second guy went off, returning quite quickly .... shortly before the first also arrived. A big fight ensued, rifles came out .... My friend told me he wasn't sure if it was him or the second guy who was going to be killed .... but finally he managed to apologise very profusely & things calmed down. His accepting from a second person was considered a huge insult .... a rejection, a withdrawal of the "honour" he'd bestowed by accepting the offer!! NB - my friend is himself a Pathan, although not from the tribe of that village ... but his family lives in the city & he'd forgotten about the particular touchiness about hospitality! He should have known better ....

On "full political freedom": You open a very complex subject here, Steven, :>)
Can one actually have freedom and politics?????! An extreme way of saying it - but what I really mean is, when you get into "politics" you are basicallly talking about power & control, no? (And I see institutional religion in much the same way - both are structured to place power & control in the hands of a few.) The "masses" assume that the leaders are going to work in the interests of the community.

In less developed societies, there is an element of believing that the leaders are more educated (or experienced) and know better than the "masses" what is best for everyone. Which is why you find communities who listen to their traditional chiefs as to which person they should vote for in elections .... They even ask them & "the chief says" is good enough reason to vote accordingly!

In more developed societies, it is the media that one listens to that influences choice. (So whover owns the media can effectively swing choices among the clients of that media source) And/or the "promises" made in function of particular problems faced by enough of the electorate. Or a decision is taken that "politics stinks so I'm not going to vote!" Which in itself is a vote, albeir a negative one.

But ... if leading parties agree on issues, shouldn't that be a "best case" scenario? Assuming that both listen to their elecotrate, not just the monied element, of course! And that's where slippage occurs, because in reality, it is a dangerous assumption not often matching reality ......

I believe that in Australia one is not free to choose not to vote? Is that "full political freedom"? Or is it not freedom since political participation is an obkigation .... a duty?

I do think that if one renounces one's right (and duty) to vote, one has also renounced one's right to gripe about what the elected leaders do with the power accorded by election. A blank voting slip is at least a way of making one's (disaatisfied) voice heard, while not going to vote at all gives no clear message.

Evelyn B (63)
Friday June 5, 2015, 9:12 pm
But as far as Yemen is concerned ..... maybe quota systems that pick up representatived of the tribes might help get a more balanced "voice" heard? Better than guns & rockets, anyway!

But there are not that many countries in which the lead politicians are both motivated to serve ALL the people - and have the means to push through essential changes that respond to needs/ demands of both the rich & the poor .... & the choices the leaders make tend to move towards the requirements of those who have the $$$$$. And it is not the majority of the tribes that fall in that category! Maybe, IF the tribes could really pull together ... BUT - it is not in the interest of those with the power to allow - let alone encourage - movements of solidarity that could create a shift in power!

Stephen Brian (23)
Sunday June 7, 2015, 6:19 pm
It is more than a bi of a crazy time with forcible hospitality. Something tells me something got lost in translation at some point.

When it comes to freedom, I think the Stag Hunt and research on similar models from game-theory might help make some sense of things. Picture a scenario where people can cooperate or betray the group. They all stand to gain greatly if the group succeeds, and they each stand to gain a small additional benefit if they betray it. If they cannot trust each other, the "natural" result is that they all betray the group and each end up with the mall benefit. The usual solution, however, is for people to voluntarily build an entity with coercive power over themselves and submit to it, so they can get that cooperation, to the benefit of all, even if they don't normally trust each other. That is where the power of government typically originates as it addresses many of these situations. To quantify the benefit, imagine the price of hiring private security in a lawless region to provide safety equivalent to a well-regulated and policed society, and compare it to the proportion of tax paid for that purpose. Then apply the same to general emergency-response, public health, public education, environmental protection, and everything else better done as a community which is handled through government.

Are we still totally free? In practice, obviously we have created limits for ourselves. In principle this is still freedom because we support our limits voluntarily. It's a case of limits emerging from the system and not the principles, like how gravity alone doesn't dictate that we cannot jump ten feet in the air, and neither do our muscles, but putting everything together that's just reality. The same goes for not being able to effectively vote against some policy if the leading parties all support it. Freedom up to such limits of reality, rather than arbitrarily limited beneath that point, is as full political freedom as possible. Of course, such freedom generally implies tyranny over other groups. However, limiting it below that point by demanding equal freedom (and rights) for a larger portion of society, in principle even if not in practice, is still compatible with what is generally called "full political freedom". That pretty much means formal democracy and rule of law.

That loyalty to the tribe strictly above the nation by many in the Arab world is, I believe, the core of many of the problems in the Middle East. This is why, while I hope for the best in Yemen, until such a fundamental change is made throughout the culture, my hopes for long-term resolution to just about any conflict there are dim.

Evelyn B (63)
Sunday June 7, 2015, 10:57 pm
Hi Stephen :)
Perhaps, if one could step back & view things from the perspective of some very intelligent alien, whose sense of time allows a panorama, one might see a pattern where Western "democracy" grew from a very similar pattern!

Our leaders (and those with the voice to elect them, when elections became part of the system) came from an elite: more educated, relatively well off. Some of these had hereditary "responsibility" for the less advantaged who lived in their "patch. (And while some exercised exaggerated "rights" over their people, others saw the interest in making things easier for them, so they could do a good job in fulfilling their part of society ...).

Look how the land-owners, the Maharahs & Rajahs, the advantaged families took their places when some form of "representative government" came in.

For a long time, serving in the Parliament/Congress or whatever was considered a vocation, a responsibility to be assumed - not a career choice. And there are "political families" (like the Kennedies, the Bush) ...

But now? Politics is a career choice in the West. Salaries have been adjusted up to reflect the COE role of the top people in government. The personal & family benefits weigh more & more heavily in the choice. Which opens the door to the influence of the big corporations .....

Countries like Yemen, Syria, Pakistan have been shifted to the Western model at a time when the Western model is shifting. The election process is in place - but still depends on the tribal/ community trust context ... which assumes the "vocation" - see how nepotism is visible in many places. But at the same time, the $$$$$ pressures (offers, examples, greed) ensure that benefits of position and power weigh more heavily than service.

Hardly surprising that "democracy" isn't working when grafted on to other cultures! We're mucking it up ourselves ... and our cultures evolved round belief in these structures! We really need to get control back over the "slippage" in the concept ...

And maybe, rather than pushing for adoption of our model (now breaking down), what the "advanced" nations should be doing is enabling these countries to evolve their own version of "democracy" - from principles to a viable, stable, adapted structure?

fly bird (26)
Sunday June 7, 2015, 11:08 pm
Thanks for comments and post, Evelyn.

Also agree with Thomas, overall. The U.S. needs to focus more on it's own domestic issues.


LucyKaleido ScopeEyes (82)
Tuesday February 9, 2016, 2:51 am
Sorry to get here so late! I've found this post of yours, Evelyn, because I was conducting a C2 search to see if an important petition which I have just received news of, had already been posted to C2NN: it's from 'Just Foreign Policy' [@] and the title is "Urge the Senate to end U.S. aid to the Saudi war in Yemen," @
I suspect you'd agree with that, Evelyn, and agree, as well, with the reasons put forward in the petition and with the comments quoted from Sen. Chris Murphy [D-CT], so I'm posting it here in the hopes it will be found by others!
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