Israel’s ambitions in south Yemen increase risk of conflict with Houthis – Middle East Monitor

Israel’s involvement in the Yemen war through the duration of its five year duration is an open secret. In 2015, once the Saudi Arabian Embassy in the capital Sanaa was seized by the Houthi forces in retaliation for the Saudi-led coalition’s aggression, a big cache of Israeli-made weapons and ammunition was discovered, in addition to documents detailing intentions by the united states to establish a military base on Perim Island nearby the Bab Al-Mandab Strait, “to protect [America’s] interests and ensure the security of Israel”. The island has been beneath the coalition’s get a handle on since it was wrested from the Houthis in the exact same year. Foreign mercenaries fighting on behalf of coalition-partner the UAE were also said to have now been trained by the Israeli military at camps in the Negev Desert.

Amid the ever-growing normalisation of relations between Israel and Gulf states, it should come as no real surprise that it had been reported the other day that Israel and the Emirati-backed separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) are “secret friends” with meetings facilitated by the UAE.

The STC’s vice-chairman, Hani Bin Briek, confirmed that relations with Israel are “very good” while Tel Aviv reacted absolutely to the prospects of a “new autonomous state in Yemen”. The fragmentation of Arab states is, of course, consistent with Zionist strategies in the location; support for separatism in the south of Yemen echoes Israel’s decades-old policy of backing Kurdish statehood.

READ: ‘UAE imposed full sovereignty on Socotra,’ says Yemen official

Covert Israeli interventions in Yemen aren’t without precedent. During the 1962-1970 civil war Israel airlifted arms and money in support of the royalist Mutawakkilite dynasty — ironically the predecessors of the Houthis — from the Nasserite republicans. The Saudis also supported the Zaydi monarchs who ultimately lost out in the war.

Securing Israel’s southern port of Eilat and a shipping lane which grants access not merely to the Suez Canal but also the Red Sea and through Bab Al-Mandab to the Indian Ocean and beyond is of vital interest to Tel Aviv, particularly as a gateway to the Far East and China, which really is a major trading partner. The wars with Arab neighbours in 1956, 1967 and 1973 all involved blocking Israeli shipping. In the latter, Yemen closed off the Bab Al-Mandab Strait and blockaded the Red Sea. Ever since, Israel has viewed any try to block use of the Red Sea being an act of war and it has threatened to deploy all branches of its military in the function of Iran doing so.

As with every single other party involved in the present conflict in Yemen, use of all seaways leading to the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean play a significant part in the underlying agendas. It is unquestionably one of the charges levied from the UAE over its involvement in the recent STC “coup” of Socotra Island.

However, the revelation of Israeli support for the STC is really a worrying development for the prospects of maintaining a unified Yemen, however elusive that appears to be. Any attempts by Tel Aviv to straight back the emergence of a break-away “independent” state in the region ought to be treated with suspicion. The STC has made it clear that it intends to expand further beyond its current get a handle on of Aden and parts of the Dale and Lahj provinces. Clashes carry on in the Abyan province with the Saudi-backed militia and there were calls for solidarity with the STC in Hadhramout.

READ: Saudi Arabia fails to stop conflict between government, STC militia in Abyan

The Houthi-aligned government in Sanaa is committed to the territorial integrity of Yemen and is well-aware of Israel’s destructive ambitions. “The Israeli enemy sees Yemen as a threat to it, explained Information Minister Dhaifalla Al-Shami, “especially in its strategic location, so it has worked to find a foothold in Yemen through the UAE’s role.”

Earlier this month, the leader of the Houthi movement, Sayyid Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi, criticised Saudi Arabia and the UAE for siding with “the chief enemy of the Muslim world,” Israel.

“The US and Israel seek to enslave Yemeni people,” Al-Houthi said in a televised speech. “Their plots target the entire Muslim community, and are meant to ‎disintegrate Islamic nations from within through sowing the seeds of discord and division.” He has stated previously that the Houthis are ready to support the resistance factions in Lebanon and Palestine against Israel.

Moreover, the Houthis, who are supported by most of the Yemeni military, have threatened Israel once before with “revenge” over its known involvement in the Yemen war of aggression. The Defence Minister in the National Salvation Government (NSG), General Mohammed Al-Atefi, said late this past year that a “bank of military and maritime targets” have already been identified and that they won’t hesitate to attack them when the leadership decides to do this.

These are security challenges that Israel takes seriously, especially with the long-range ballistic missiles and armed drones in the Yemeni army’s arsenal, which cross-border offensives against Saudi show to be very accurate. Israel has additionally expressed a willingness to attack Houthi targets near Bab Al-Mandab.

The Houthis also have a frequent stance on supporting the Palestinian cause. Al-Houthi even went so far as to offer to switch captured Saudi pilots for the release of prominent Hamas members imprisoned in the Kingdom.

Direct military confrontation between Israel and the Houthis is unlikely and unrealistic for the time being, even though both sides have voiced a willingness to take action if necessary. However, Israel is playing a dangerous game; should it become more embedded in the war in Yemen it runs the risk of conflict with the Houthis. Just as Israel has securitised its access to the Bab Al-Mandab Strait, it will not be surprised if the Houthi authorities opt to react to Israeli attempts to sow further discord and break up the already fragile Yemeni state. The chief-backer of the STC, the UAE, has additionally been threatened by the Houthis. “Abu Dhabi can be attacked at any time,” claimed a pro-Houthi military spokesperson.

At the moment, the key focus of the Houthis is to seize control of Marib city from the Saudi-backed militia fighting on behalf of the internationally-recognised government-in-exile, which is increasingly proving to be an irrelevant mouthpiece of Riyadh. The NSG, which controls most of Yemen in terms of population density, will turn its focus on the south once Marib has been secured. When the inevitable clash with the STC comes, we will have the indirect confrontation with Israel emerge into the open.

READ: Saudi Arabia’s puppet Yemen government is hanging by a thread 

The views expressed in this informative article belong to the writer and do not of necessity reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.