Nov 28, 2021
JERUSALEM WEATHER

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A Saudi-led coalition surprised the US government by abandoning the Red Sea in the battle against the Iran-proxy Houthi rebels. The development confuses a situation that is already ambiguous due to the Biden administration giving mixed signals.

REPORT: Saudi Arabia retreats from Yemen’s Red Sea coast

A recent article in Debka Files reported that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates surprised the US by pulling out of the region of Yemen on the Red Sea Coast. The move signaled an intensification of the conflict in other areas.

Gen. Turki al-Malki, spokesman for the Saudi-UAE coalition fighting pro-Iranian Houthi rebels in Yemen said in a statement: “A redeployment was ordered to support other fronts and in line with the coalition’s future plans.”

Saudi media reported intensified fighting around Marib, Yemen in which at least 130 Houthi rebel fighters were killed. The Houthis claimed to have launched drone attacks on several cities in Saudi Arabia as well as targeting the Saudi Aramco facilities in Jeddah.

Debka wrote that the move was, in fact, a strategic victory for the Houthi rebels.

Mixed signals

The timing is surprising as the US recently held joint naval exercises with the UAE, Bahrain, and Israel with the goal of strengthening the region. 

“The whole point of the US-led naval drill has therefore been invalidated,” Debka wrote. “The US, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have forfeited a high card in control of one of the world’s key waterways, while Israel’s strategic goal of distancing Iran from its southern outlet to the sea has been turned on its head.”

“Our Washington sources report that the Biden administration confronted the Saudis and Emiratis with a demand for clarifications for their double game, so far without receiving a response,” Debka concluded.

The Houthis were quick to take advantage of the Suadi withdrawal. On Monday, Saudi state media reported that the military had detected hostile movements and activity by the Yemeni Houthi forces using explosive-laden boats to take control of  the south of the Red Sea.

Six months ago, the Saudi forces established a new airbase on Perim Island in the vital Bab al-Mandab strait in order to strengthen their efforts to control the Red Sea.

The joint exercise could be considered a mixed signal from the US government. Despite preparing a military response to the Houthi threat in the region, the Biden administration is working to revive the Iran nuclear deal that would invigorate Iran’s aspirations for regional expansion. 

The Biden administration also restored $73 million in US aid to Houthi-controlled northern Yemen that the Trump administration suspended. It was unclear what procedures are in place that would ensure that the funds are not usurped for terrorism. At the same time, the Biden administration cut off funding and aid to the Saudi offensive operations against the Houthis. The Biden administration also reverse a policy put in place by the Trump administration which designated the Houthis as a terrorist organization remove senior officials in the group from the Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) list.

The Houthi rebels captured large sections of Yemen from the government in 2014. The US backed a coalition against the rebellion which included neighboring Saudi Arabia and the United  Arab Emirates. The civil war has generated one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world today with widespread hunger and starvation. About 80 percent of Yemen’s 30 million people rely on aid to survive. The United Nations said last year that approximately 233,000 people had died as a result of the conflict. The Houthis are backed by Iran which supplies them with missile and drone technology they have used to devastating effect against civilian targets inside Saudi Arabia. The Houthis routinely target civilians and have kidnapped Americans in the past.