Saudis continue battle with Yemeni rebels

Saudi Arabia continued its air strikes against Yemen’s Houthi rebels yesterday but insisted all the attacks were confined to Saudi territory.

Similar air strikes on Thursday were widely reported to have included targets inside Yemen. Two videos posted on the internet (here and here) purport to show the Saudi airforce in action over Yemen. The Yemeni government continues to deny this – probably for political reasons. It does, however, admit that the two countries are “cooperating and sharing intelligence”.

The Saudis say they have captured 103 Yemeni rebels on Saudi territory in the Jabal al-Dukhan area – including 40 who were trying to escape disguised as women. The rebels, in turn, say they have captured an unspecified number of Saudi soldiers

Although the air strikes now appear to have ceased, ground operations are reported to be continuing today – suggesting that some rebels are still in the area.

I’m not sure that “incursion” is the best word to describe the rebels’ presence in Saudi Arabia, because there has always been a lot of unregulated cross-border by the local population. A Reuters article suggests the rebels have been using the kingdom as a “back base” and the Saudis have come under pressure from Yemen to put a stop to it. (The article, incidentally, contains a good deal of useful background information.)

There’s no indication that Saudi Arabia wants to become heavily involved in Yemen militarily – the result would be a quagmire – but there’s a risk of being gradually drawn in. Some already view the Houthi conflict as a proxy war, with Sunni Saudi Arabia on one side and Shia Iran on the other. That probably overstates the situation at the moment, though it’s clearly heading in that direction.

On the Iranian side, we now have a few more details about the “arms ship” detained by Yemeni forces on October 26 with a crew of five Iranians and one Indian. Finally, there is a photo of it:

Almotamar website (connected President Salih’s party) says its name is Mahan 1 – which also happens to be the name of aUS Navy destroyer – and it has a cargo capacity of 1,000 tons.

The Yemen Observer gives its name as Yohan 1 and says those on board threw equipment into the sea before they were arrested.

"The Iranian crew of the ship destroyed the SIMs of the mobiles and all documents in their laptops and some of the ship's devices so that nobody can understand where the ship came from and where it was going," an unnamed investigator is quoted as saying.

The ship was reportedly stopped near Midi and the Yemen Observer says: “Midi harbour is only a few kilometers away from al-Malahaid, the western frontline of fighting between al-Houthi rebels and the government troops.”

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 7 November 2009.