Operation Storm of Resolve, designed to rescue Yemen President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s regime from the clutches of the Houthi rebels, began with an exercise in misdirection.
At midnight between Wednesday and Thursday, the first squadron of Saudi Arabian fighter planes launched attacks on targets in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a – air force bases, arms depots belonging to the rebels, the palace of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, and a reserve forces base in the south of the city that was taken by the rebels last month.
The strike caught the rebels by surprise. At a meeting earlier on Wednesday night between Houthi rebel leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi and ousted president Salah, the two had coordinated an assault on Aden, Yemen’s second-largest city.
Aftermath of Saudi-led air strikes in Yemen (Photo: EPA)
“If Aden falls,” the ousted president promised, “Yemen will fall, and the forces will be able to turn their attention to the greater task at hand – taking control of the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait for the purpose of overseeing marine traffic into the Red Sea.”
With the Arab response slow in coming, despite threats voiced by senior advisers to the Saudi king, the rebel commanders in Yemen were sure they had at least 24 hours in which to mount operations in the field before the Arab foreign ministers met in Sharm el-Sheikh for an emergency summit. They knew that the battle for power in Yemen would top the agenda, but believed that they’d have until the end of the summit on Friday afternoon before a green light was given to amass an Arab force to take action in Yemen. The also failed to foresee a powerful military strike and believed that time was on their side.
“We decided to take action against the rebels in Yemen without getting the approval of the Arab League,” the spokesman for the Saudi Royal Palace said on Thursday morning, following a night of air strikes on Sana’a and the retaking of the airport in Aden.
It’s been revealed, meanwhile, that in behind-the-scenes discussions, four Arab states agreed to join the air strikes under the command of the Saudi defense minister, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
During a tour Wednesday of the Saudi-Yemen border, Salman issued a stern warning to the rebels. “We are committed to the security of the Yemeni people,” he declared. “If you continue to undermine the stability and threaten Saudi Arabia, you will get hit hard.”
A spokesman for the Houthi rebels responded in kind, commenting: “We have already proved to you in 2009 how easy it is to invade the territory of the kingdom. Your army is weak. Today we are more skilled. When we decide to invade, we won’t stop in the city of Mecca, but will continue on to Riyadh to topple the government institutions.”
Houthi rebels in Yemen (Photo: AP)
President Hadi, meanwhile, has gone underground. “He is in a secure location and is monitoring the military operation,” his spokeswoman declared. And a status on the president’s Facebook page reads: “We are currently taking measures to restore internal stability to our country. We will fly the flag of Yemen and not the Iranian flag over our homeland.”
Washington isn’t helping
The situation in Yemen took a turn for the worse some two months ago, when the Houthis, a Shiite opposition group founded in 1992 by Iran, managed to seize control of the capital, Sana’a. President Hadi and his prime minister, Khaled Bahah, were forced to announce their resignations. The Yemeni parliament rejected the resignations in an effort to preserve the government institutions, but Hadi insisted, and the government and parliament were dissolved.
With the Houthis not satisfied with the president’s resignation and threatening to assassinate him, Hadi got the message and went into hiding. “If you force me to stay in my position, he told the commanders of the Yemeni military, “the terrorists will get to me and eliminate me.”
The Houthis then took control of the presidential palace in Sana’a, and their commander, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, declared: “We are staying here to conduct the fight against al-Qaeda in Yemen.”
Al-Houthi deliberately failed to make mention of the president-in-hiding and the collapse of the institutions of power: For him, the excuse was and remains the Sunni terrorist organization, which has set up an affiliate group in Yemen. On his way to shake the regime in Saudi Arabia, he has to block the terrorists.
While making efforts to enlist the help of his neighbors in the Gulf, Hadi has also appealed to the UN Security Council in New York, asking that it declare Yemen a no-fly zone and thus put an end to Iran’s supply by air of weapons, military equipment and thousands of instructors and fighters to the rebel forces.