Exclusive: Why Yemen is back on the US agenda

Pro-government parade to mark the 55th anniversary of the September 1962 revolution in Taiz on September 26, 2017. (Reuters)

Yemen is back on the agenda for the White House. The assassination of former Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh and other factors are driving Yemen back to a position of priority within the Trump administration.

“I think it's becoming a higher profile issues for several reasons, not just because of the death of Saleh,” said Lincoln Bloomfield who served as a senior diplomat in the administration of President George W. Bush.

Saleh’s death at the hands of Houthi rebels removed a man who had become a trusted interlocutor for Washington on Yemen for decades. Bloomfield met with Saleh twice during the George W. Bush administration in order to buyback surface-to-air missiles from Yemen – an interaction later made public in documents provided by WikiLeaks.

In an exclusive interview with Al-Arabiya English he provided some new insights into Yemen.

The removal of Saleh from the Yemeni political equation is certainly to the benefit of Iran and its proxies. (defaeroreport.com)

“I found [President Saleh] a fascinating character it was interesting being a Zaydi that he choose to jump in with the Houthis,” said Lincoln Bloomfield who served as a senior diplomat in the administration of President George W. Bush.” When I was there, he was trying to get parts for the F5 Tiger IIs to go after the Houthis.”

During the 1970s and 1980s, the United States sold nearly two dozen F5 Tiger IIs to North Yemen. The planes were flown mainly by Taiwanese pilots and largely became inoperable after the end of the Cold War.

On December 6, President Trump sent a letter to the Saudi government urging Saudi assistance in solving the humanitarian crisis. Complicating the situation is that Hodeidah, Yemen’s largest port, and the source of most of its humanitarian aid remains under Houthi control.

Bloomfield believes that there are two areas that the US could focus its efforts in the coming months.

President George W. Bush (R) with Ali Abdullah Saleh in Washington, DC on November 10, 2005. (AFP)

“Secretary of Defense James Mattis has increased his support for the Royal Saudi Air Force, and there are some areas where that could be further increased rather easily starting with language training. This would allow us to work closer as allies. I favor such defense assistance. I have been doing defense assistance my whole life.”

Iran has also used Hezbollah to increase its influence in Yemen and the removal of Saleh from the Yemeni political equation is certainly to the benefit of Iran and its proxies.

“There are illicit routes where IRGC Is smuggling parts, weapons, and cash into Yemen and there is a role for the US to play to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said.

Bloomfield also believes the US has an interest in assisting Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in insuring that Iran is not able to resupply its allies in Yemen. Hezbollah is believed to have sent advisors to Yemen since the start of the conflict.

“Hezbollah is directly supporting the Houthis all of the media output from the Houthis is done in Beirut. Hezbollah is sub-contracted by the IRGC to work for the Houthis. This can and should be interdicted and stopped. I think with the right incentives the Houthis can change their orientation.”

Houthis over-stepped in killing Saleh

Killing Saleh will make the Houthi's less acceptable to other factions in Yemen. (Youtube)

The Houthis may have over-stepped in killing Saleh warns Nabeel Khoury who served as deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Yemen in the last decade and is now a fellow at the Atlantic Council.

“Killing Saleh was not a very wise move,” says Khoury, “it will make them less acceptable to other factions in Yemen.” He said.

Khoury also said it is unclear how those loyal to Saleh will react in the weeks to come to his assassination. Saleh has several influential sons active in Yemeni politics, and one of his nephews has worked as defense attaché to the Yemeni embassy in Washington.

Saleh was killed as his vehicle column was ambushed by Houthi forces on December 4th. The circumstances around his killing remain murky. However, it appears that Saleh appears to have been attempting to realign himself with Saudi and UAE interests in Yemen shortly before his death and away from the Houthi faction he had once supported.

Saleh’s death removes from Yemeni politics the man who has arguably been its dominant figure since he became President of North Yemen in 1978. Following reunification he became. Yemen’s First President from 1990 to 2011 knew all to well that Yemeni politics could be treacherous. He was the survivor of several previous assassination attempts and once referred to Yemeni politics as “dancing on the heads of snakes.”

“His loss is a serious blow to his party, the General People's Congress and also those loyal to him in the armed services. It is unclear who will now lead these elements…but; it is also step back for the wider reconciliation process in Yemen as well,” Khoury said.

Though it remains unclear who amongst Saleh’s heirs is best prepared to attempt the viper dance that Ali Abdullah Saleh had mastered so well.

Assasination is a setback for Yemen and America

The US should accelerate its support for what the Crown Prince is trying to do. (AFP)

“The assassination of Saleh is deeply disturbing and certainly a setback gave what I think was going to happen it was a setback certainly for Yemen and for [America’s] goals and aspirations in the region,” said James Jones who served as US President Barrack Obama’s first national security adviser.

James Jones went out of his way to also call for stronger cooperation between the two countries.

“The U.S should accelerate its support for what the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is trying to do. It's visionary. It is societal transformation, and it will transform the capabilities of the Saudi military as well,” he said.

Last Update: Wednesday, 13 December 2017 KSA 08:30 - GMT 05:30

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