What is Going on in Eastern Yemen?

Emirati rush, Saudi brakes, and growing Western interest
Abdulrasheed Alfaqih
January 22, 2024

What is Going on in Eastern Yemen?

Emirati rush, Saudi brakes, and growing Western interest
Abdulrasheed Alfaqih
January 22, 2024
Photo by: Fawaz Salman

Despite announcing its “official” departure from the lands of Yemen on July 8, 2019, the UAE kept its active tools in Yemen, and its eyes open on the entire area of ​​the eastern governorates of Yemen; from Abyan to Shabwa to Hadramaut, the coast and valley, and Al-Mahra, on the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman, all the way to the island of Socotra is in the heart of the Indian Ocean.

  Immediately after, it had imposed a new reality by undermining the presence of the internationally recognized government in its temporary capital, Aden, on August 24, 2019, and empowering the formations of the Transitional Council, then by thwarting the Riyadh Agreement and the Presidential Leadership Council. In addition, it carried out a long series of surprise operations, in which the UAE intended to further complicate the situation in Yemen, by extending its influence over the entire area of the Gulf of Aden, reaching to the Bab Al-Mandab Strait, Mayyun (Perim) Island, the Port of Mocha, and a long coastal strip on the Red Sea, in addition to Socotra Island in the heart of the Indian Ocean.

Within the framework of its unlimited ambitions, the UAE multiplied its support for the Transitional Council throughout the wartime with the forces of the internationally recognized government in the Sheikh Salem area in central Abyan Governorate, which broke out in conjunction with the Transitional Council formations’ control of the temporary capital, Aden, and then undertook the overthrow of the governor of Shabwa, Mohammad bin Adio. With the announcement of the formations of the Guards of the Republic or the National Resistance, led by Tariq Saleh, and supported by the UAE, on Thursday, November 11, 2021, it arranged a unilateral and sudden withdrawal from its advanced control positions south of the city of Hodeida, with an area estimated at about 100 km, along the western coast aligned with the coast of international shipping lines in the Red Sea, which was given to the Ansar Allah group (Houthis). Meanwhile, the formations loyal to the UAE, in a surprise and lightning operation, seized Shabwa Governorate, on August 11, 2022, after seizing Abyan Governorate, and forcing a new reality in the two governorates. Thus, it removed the Saudi-backed government forces and replaced them with formations loyal to them, taking advantage of the international interactions created by the Ukrainian-Russian war, amid growing American and British interest in those regions. This was expressed in the visits of many diplomatic, military and security delegations to Hadramout and Al-Mahra governorates south of Yemen.

As a tool to put pressure on Saudi Arabia, the UAE prompted the outbreak of war in Sudan, which broke out on April 15, 2023, between the Sudanese army, supported by Saudi Arabia on the one hand, and the Rapid Support Forces, supported by the UAE, on the other. At the same time, the UAE intensified its escalation activities aimed at detonating the situation in Wadi Hadramout. Following the announcement of the joining of the prominent leaders: Faraj al-Bahsani and Abdul Rahman al-Muharrami to the Southern Transitional Council, the council moved with its leaders, forces, and armored vehicles, to the city of Mukalla, where the National Assembly meetings were held on May 21 and 22, 2023, amid opposition from many Hadrami figures and components.

Over the course of several months, the UAE, in response to this change, shifted to a new pattern of its behavior in the Yemeni sphere, with the aim of extracting a number of agreements aimed at seizing control of a number of vital sectors.

Immediately, as an effective response, Saudi Arabia sponsored expanded consultations between a wide range of prominent figures and Hadrami components, held in Riyadh, for a full month, leading to the announcement of the formation of the Hadramout National Council on June 21, 2023. This was followed by a visit by the head of the Presidential Leadership Council, Rashad Al-Alimi, who announced the granting of full self-administration to Hadramout Governorate, and, together with a Saudi delegation, launched a broad development plan. These steps froze the Emirati escalation and spared the Valley of Hadramout and its coast the scourge of a conflict whose outbreak was imminent.

Over the course of months, the UAE, in response to this change, turned to a new pattern of its behavior in the Yemeni scope, with the aim of obtaining a number of agreements aimed at seizing control of a number of vital sectors in Yemen, through which to provide cover for its geopolitical ambitions, which are growing at the expense of both Yemen and Saudi Arabia presence in the region. some examples of these agreements include: the “Agreement on Military and Security Cooperation and Combating Terrorism,” which was signed on December 8, 2022, the agreements on the sale and marketing of oil, as well as the partnership agreement in the field of telecommunications.

Amid the concentration on the war in Gaza and its developments, and the Houthi operations in the Red Sea and related incidents, on Wednesday, January 17, 2024, Hadramout in eastern Yemen witnessed serious developments, due to the movement of a military force of fifty armed vehicles and five vehicles (kashkash) from the newly formed National Shield Forces, supported by Saudi Arabia, from Sayun in Wadi Hadramout to the Hasisa area in Mukalla, the capital of the governorate, in accordance with the directive of the governor of Hadramout; Mabkhout bin Madhi  However, a force from the Gul al-Qarashem camp of the elite forces loyal to the UAE intercepted the path of that Military convoy and stopped its advance in the Gul al-Qarashem area (or Al Dar Al Baidha) in the Wadi al-Ain and Houra District, which is the area separating the First Military Zone and the Second Military Zone. As a result, a state of military tension arose, which required the intervention of the commander of the coalition forces; Major General Sultan Al-Baqmi, who met with the coalition leaders at Al-Rayyan Airport, then met with the governor of Hadramout Governorate, along with the governor’s deputies and security and military leaders. On the other hand, the Southern Transitional Council in Hadramout Governorate expressed its absolute rejection of bringing any force to the Hadrami coast, calling on the people of the governorate to support the Hadrami elite forces, and to confront the plots that aim to weaken and overthrow them and infringe on their powers to protect and secure the city of Mukalla and the coastal districts. Moreover, the Hadramout Transitional Council placed full responsibility on the party that granted permission for forces to enter Mukalla today, threatening further escalation if those forces did not withdraw.

In parallel with these developments in Hadramout, many prominent figures in Shabwa governorate announced, on January 16, 2024, the formation of the Shabwa General National Council, similar to the Hadhrami National Council. Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters, with the support of tribal components, continued their peaceful sit-in in the area. Al-Uqla in Shabwa, to demand a reduction in the prices of oil derivatives. However, many protesters were subjected to an armed attack that resulted in a number of injuries. 

It shall be noted that these developments bring to mind a number of events related to the situation in Hadramout Governorate, and Yemen in general, which revealed the truth about the unlimited Emirati ambitions in Yemen, and exposed the various stages of Saudi and Emirati relations in Yemen and the region, which began with a close alliance, then moved to disparity, then to competition, leading to fighting in a state of conflict of interest.

Any tolerance will push the situation to new levels of complexity and hazardous transformations that will be difficult to address and whose consequences will be tough to manage on more than one level.

Since the announcement of KSA-led coalition operations in Yemen, on March 26, 2015, the UAE has been busy acquiring vital areas in Yemen as part of its interest on ports overlooking waterways, which, if operated, could negatively affect Jebel Ali Port and Dubai Ports. Thus, it either took over those areas, starting by establishing military bases there, or empowering armed formations loyal to it, to the point that its influence now includes: The ports of Mukalla, Shabwa, Aden, Mocha, Mayyun Island, the Greater and Lesser Hanish Islands, Bab al-Mandab, and Socotra Island in the Indian Ocean. 

Further, a closer look at the distribution of areas of influence on the Yemeni map in its many dimensions, after nine years of conflict, will clearly show the serious distortions and imbalances; The Ansar Allah group (Houthis), allied with Iran, controls a wide area that includes about ten northern governorates in which the largest population is concentrated. In the second rank comes the area under the control of the Transitional Council formations, and other formations loyal to the UAE, which control about seven governorates, including the most important strategic sites. On the other hand, the area of control of the Saudi allies is restricted to a limited number of districts, including two districts in Mareb, about four districts in Taiz, and three districts in the valley of Hadhramaut, in addition to the districts of Al-Mahra Governorate, a situation which was carefully plotted for geopolitical goals that are completely inconsistent with the national security of Yemen and Saudi Arabia and for their mutual interests.

The effective initiative to remove the distortions created in the regions of eastern Yemen for the benefit of the Yemeni state institutions will necessarily extend to a broader framework of work space to address the war file in Yemen. In addition, any tolerance with the current situation will push the condition to new levels of complexity and hazardous transformations that will be difficult to remedy or address their consequences on more than one aspect.

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