Nasser Arrabyee, Sanaa-based journalist and producer. Follow him on Twitter @narrabyee.
The Saudi government wants the Houthis to implement UN Resolution 2216 by surrendering their weapons to the internationally recognized government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and withdrawing from the cities they occupy, including Sanaa and Taiz. But what Riyadh wants is the Houthis’ complete surrender, and it seems unconcerned that weapons handed over to the Yemeni government could go to members of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS), some of whom pose as members of Hadi’s internationally recognized government. The U.S. Department of the Treasury designated three members of the Riyadh-based Hadi government as global terrorists: Abdul Majid al-Zindani, Abdul Wahhab Humayqani (who represented Hadi’s government at the 2015 UN-sponsored talks in Geneva), and Nayif Salih Salim al-Qaysi (whom Hadi appointed as governor of Bayda in December 2015).
Al-Qaeda and IS are the biggest winners of the war. First, despite reports over the past few months that they were driven out of a number of southern cities, they continue to operate in Aden, Mukalla, Zinjibar, Jaar, and elsewhere—and will remain as long as Yemen lacks a strong government. About 70 people were killed on August 29 in the heart of Aden by an IS suicide bombing. That suicide bomber Ahmed Saif (also known as Abu Sufyan al-Adeni) was a Quran teacher living in Aden shows how al-Qaeda and IS are rooted in the educational and social system; this is the most dangerous aspect of the problem. Leaders in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey take money and weapons and hand them to the “resistance,” which is often al-Qaeda and IS.
As the atrocities accumulate and the humanitarian crisis worsens, Yemenis blame the U.S. administration for most of their suffering. Nationwide, huge posters in the streets proclaim, “America kills the Yemeni people,” as Yemenis are sure that the Saudis would not have dared to do all that to them without the consent of the United States. However, many Yemenis happily share media and social media, American citizens’ criticism of the Obama administration’s role in Saudi war crimes and weapons sales. They circulated tweets by Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy that criticized the Saudi campaign and portrayed him and others as heroes in big rallies, improving a little bit the image advanced by the “America kills the Yemeni people” campaign. Anti-America sentiment gets even higher when U.S.-backed Saudi jets kill whole families in their houses and commit massacres in weddings, schools, hospitals, factories, mosques, and markets, where hundreds of women and children have been killed.
Saudis are increasingly worried—not only by rising hatred, anti-Saudi sentiment, and the growing number of attacks on southern Saudi Arabia, but also by the photos and videos published almost daily showing bare-footed Yemeni fighters defeating the Saudi army and its most advanced weapons. Yemenis made and circulated a lot of jokes about Yemeni fighters seizing American M1A2 Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles (BFVs), boasting of Yemeni fighters’ bravery and making fun of Saudi fighters. Since mid-August, these scenes are shown almost daily and sometimes twice a day, leading Saudis to block or hack the Houthi-run Al Masirah TV on August 26, which reports from the Saudi provinces of Najran, Jizan, and Asir. Al Masirah shifted to a new frequency in less than 24 hours.
Still, a bigger concern for Saudis are the ballistic missiles that hit vital targets, such as military bases and oil facilities. An Aramco power plant in Najran was hit on August 26 with a ballistic missile, and Saudi Arabia retaliated by hitting electricity stations, oil facilities, and factories, including an attack on the Ras Isa sugar factory in Hodeida, cumulatively killing and injuring hundreds of civilians. Yet on September 2 Houthis fired a home-made ballistic missile named Burkan-1 on Taif, unnerving Saudis. The range of this missile is over 800 kilometers (500 miles) and it weighs nine tons. Even though Saudis said they destroyed Yemenis’ ballistic capability in the first week of war, after eighteen months they are stunned by how Yemenis moved such a huge missile and fired it on a military base hundreds of kilometers into Saudi Arabia—let alone how they made it and where.