Dr. Anthony on the Crisis in Yemen

Following is an edited version of National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Founding President & CEO Dr. John Duke Anthony’s remarks to the Saudi Press Agency on April 22, 2015, about the latest developments regarding Yemen.

Q: How do you assess the decision to end Operation Decisive Storm?

A: What drove the decision was the achievement of the campaign’s objective.

Q: And what was that?

A Royal Saudi Air Force F-15 taking part in Operation Decisive Storm. Photo: Saudi Press Agency.

A: It was multifold. For example, it was not just to ensure that the chaos in Yemen would not spread to Saudi Arabia. To that end, it was to guarantee that the kingdom’s national sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity would remain assured and intact. It was also to ensure that Yemen’s rebels and all other armed groups in Yemen would not have the means to threaten the kingdom militarily.

Q: How was this accomplished?

A: It was achieved by the kingdom’s air force taking out Yemen’s missiles by disabling its ballistic missile defense structures and systems as well as by dismantling most if not all of Yemen’s main ammunitions depots, ordinance warehouses, and weapons-firing capabilities. It was also achieved by gaining and maintaining effective control of Yemen’s air space; by administering an effective blockade of the major ports: namely, Aden and Hodeida if not also Mukalla; and by protecting its borders from Houthi rebel incursions.

Only by first accomplishing these goals could the kingdom’s armed forces begin to launch its second campaign: namely, Operation Restoring Hope.

Q: What are the defining features of Operation Restoring Hope?

A: They are threefold: political, economic, and humanitarian.

Q: How likely is it that these goals can be achieved?

A: In the immediate term, the long answer is the same as the short one – unlikely.

 

Q: Why is that?

A: It has to do with the nature of Yemen’s economy, resources, and overall situation from the perspective of the people’s material well-being.

Q: What do you mean by that?

A: I mean that Yemen is one of the Arab world’s poorest countries in terms of its gross national product as well as the income of its people per capita. I mean that it would be impossible to find another Arab country that is as massively and pervasively poor. Anyone who has lived and worked in the country and come to know its people, as I have been privileged to do, will acknowledge that the Yemeni people are among the world’s hardest working and at the same time the most in need of immediate and sustained economic and humanitarian support.

A Yemeni leader of tomorrow in Thula. Photo: Dr. John Duke Anthony.

Indeed, few if any would deny that Yemen is in dire need of economic, material, and human resource assistance across the board in practically every sector associated with the country’s quest not just for sustained modernization and development, but also humanitarian aid in terms of food, safety, and shelter – right now and for the foreseeable future.

In this regard, the Gulf Cooperation Council countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – have not been found wanting. To the contrary, both individually and collectively, they have been and remain second to none in having extended whatever assistance they could – and can – in support of the legitimate needs, concerns, and interests of the Yemeni people. In this, Saudi Arabia has been in the lead, having provided over the past several decades more economic and developmental assistance to Yemen than all the rest of the countries and the world’s international financial and economic development organizations combined.

Q: But what has been the result?

A: The answer is far more and far less than one might imagine. Before and since the rebel uprisings occasioned by the Arab Spring in 2011 and the earlier and ongoing rebellion by the Shia Houthi tribes in the region north of the Yemeni capital of Sana’a – indeed, in an area that lies adjacent to the Saudi Arabian border – the degree and nature of support by the central government has been less than the people of this area believe would have been and should have been their rightful share. But in this self-centric view, they were not fundamentally different from innumerable other groups in Yemen that also felt deprived of what they have argued ought to be their due.

Yemen’s Human Development Index (HDI) indicators for 2013 relative to selected countries and groups. Source: United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 2014, “Yemen Country Notes,” http://hdr.undp.org/sites/all/themes/hdr_theme/country-notes/YEM.pdf.

Q: Is this all there is to the situation?

A: No. What many overlook is that the humanitarian goals in Yemen cannot be accomplished without the achievement, first, of security and stability. Humanitarian administration, operations, distribution, and logistics will not be successful unless these two goals can be achieved. The adage of “Capital is a coward” – it is reluctant to go where security and stability is absent – applies in this instance.

The economic factors necessary for the success of Operation Restoring Hope can be divided into two parts. The first and easier part is financing this effort towards which the “Friends of Yemen” countries have pledged billions of dollars with very little additional effort being required to secure the funds necessary. The second part, which is the harder part, is to ensure that the economic aid is distributed efficiently and effectively to the official and known parties in Yemen who would in turn use this assistance to help the population and the country recover from the current dire situation. Great care must be taken to prevent the economic aid from reaching unofficial or hostile parties who would use it to further destabilize Yemen, and threaten its neighbors, or use it for personal benefit.

It is also important to remember that the Yemeni crisis is a direct result of the political positions, policies, and attitudes of the different parties in Yemen. The ensuing political chaos is the largest contributive factor to the current crisis in Yemen. A political solution in Yemen based on political conviction, commitment, and courage by all parties must be reached. Otherwise, Operation Restoring Hope will not achieve its desired goals.

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Dr. John Duke Anthony is the Founding President & CEO of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations.

The Consolidation of a New Arab Political Order

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Operation Decisive Storm Coalition Forces' spokesman Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed Asiri provides a briefing on developments in the campaign.

Operation Decisive Storm Coalition Forces’ spokesman Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed Asiri provides a briefing on developments in the campaign. Photo: Saudi Press Agency.

While the Saudi-led Operation Decisive Storm against the Yemeni Houthis and their allies continues and its long-term results are so far unknown, it is not pre-mature to project that a new Arab political order is being consolidated. Its elements include a firm and sustainable commitment to fight extremism and sectarianism, bring order and stability to the heart of the Arab world – namely, Syria and Iraq – and design, chart, and lead an independent course for the protection of pan-Arab national interests.

Such an order has a leader in the collective energies and capabilities of the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, with Saudi Arabia as a first among equals, and essential assistance from such countries as Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco. Indeed, to assure its collective interests, arrive at a hoped-for peaceful stability, and sustain much needed political, economic, and social development, the Arab world must coalesce around a strong political order that can utilize its capacities and permissible international conditions to achieve what it needs and deserves. Importantly, the consolidated new Arab political order appears to emphasize essential principles that require astute judgment, committed resources, and continuous vigilance.

Fighting Extremism and Sectarianism

The status quo states of the new Arab order are cognizant of the threats represented by the plethora of extremist groups operating at the heart of the Arab world. In Yemen, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has staked a claim in Hadramawt Province abutting the Saudi Arabian border after it lost its bases in Shabwa and Abyan to the west. In Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State group has erased the borders between the two countries in a mission to re-establish an imagined and borderless Islamic Caliphate while al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front controls strategic areas of Syria. Both organizations are serious threats to Lebanon and its pluralist political society.

In Libya, the Islamic State group, al-Qaeda affiliated Ansar ash-Shari’a, and a sundry of militias have settled, and promise to both keep the country unstable and use it as a base to spread chaos and mayhem elsewhere. In Tunisia and Egypt, jihadist extremists are waging a war of attrition against state security institutions. The actors of the consolidating Arab political order must know full well that they alone can address this threat in a fashion that combines a sense of shared responsibility for common interests and an attempt at forging an independent course that serves such interests.

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Yemen in Chaos: Analysis, Prognosis, and Prospects

April 2, 2015 NCUSAR Public Affairs Briefing on YemenOn April 2, 2015, the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations hosted a public affairs briefing on “Yemen in Chaos: Analysis, Prognosis, and Prospects” in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC.

Dr. John Duke Anthony, Founding President & CEO of the National Council, served as moderator and H.E. Adel A. Al-Jubeir, Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United States, delivered featured remarks. Additional featured specialists included: Mr. Jeremy M. Sharp, Specialist in Middle East Affairs for the Congressional Research Service and Author of the CRS Report, “Yemen: Background and U.S. Relations;” Ms. Sama’a Al-Hamdani, Analyst and Writer for Yemeniaty and former Assistant Political Officer for the Embassy of the Republic of Yemen in Washington, DC; Professor David Des Roches, Senior Military Fellow at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies (National Defense University) and Council Malone Fellow in Arab and Islamic Studies (Syria); and Mr. Abbas Almosawa, Yemeni Journalist and Analyst, and former Media and Information Advisor for the Embassy of the Republic of Yemen in Abu Dhabi and Beirut.

The program was broadcast live on C-Span and can be viewed in its entirety on the C-Span website.

Upcoming Event: “Yemen in Chaos” – April 2 in Washington, DC

On April 2, 2015, the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ is hosting a public affairs briefing on “Yemen in Chaos: Analysis, Prognosis, and Prospects.” Dr. John Duke Anthony, Founding President & CEO, National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, will serve as moderator. H.E. Adel A. Al-Jubeir, Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United States, will deliver featured remarks. Additional featured specialists include: Mr. Jeremy M. Sharp, Specialist in Middle East Affairs, Congressional Research Service and Author, CRS Report “Yemen: Background and U.S. Relations;” Ms. Sama’a Al-Hamdani, Analyst and Writer, Yemeniaty and former Assistant Political Officer, Embassy of the Republic of Yemen in Washington, DC; Professor David Des Roches, Senior Military Fellow, Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, National Defense University and Malone Fellow in Arab and Islamic Studies (Syria), National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations; and Mr. Abbas Almosawa, Yemeni Journalist and Analyst and former Media and Information Advisor, Embassy of the Republic of Yemen in Abu Dhabi and Beirut.

DATE & TIME:

April 2, 2015
9:30 – 10:00 a.m. – Coffee & Tea / Networking
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. – Remarks / Q&A

LOCATION:

Rayburn House Office Building
Gold Room (2168)
45 Independence Ave SW
Washington, DC 20515

REGISTRATION:

The event is free but R.S.V.P. (acceptances only) via email to rsvp@ncusar.org is required.

Please note: seating capacity is limited. Include the following information when you R.S.V.P.:
Name:
Company:
Title:
Phone:
Email:

If you have any questions you can call the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations at (202) 293-6466.

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Yemen’s Houthi Takeover: Domestic and Regional Repercussions

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Sanaa, Yemen, is considered by many historians to be one of the oldest, continuously-inhabited cities in the world.

Sanaa, Yemen, is considered by many historians to be one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in the world. Photo: Dr. John Duke Anthony.

Two weeks ago, the Zaidi Shiite-Houthi march to control the Yemeni state triumphantly arrived at its destination in Sanaa, and forced the resignation of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the country’s two-month old government headed by Prime Minister Khaled Bahhah. The withdrawal of the President and Premier was the natural end of an aborted political process that was derailed by a gradual Houthi military advance that brought their militia, Ansar Allah, to the streets of the capital. With the Houthis welcoming both resignations and proposing to form a pliant provisional Presidential Council, the country seems to be heading towards more domestic instability and disunity that will generate regional uncertainties. More importantly, perhaps, the pro-Iranian Houthi triumph in Sanaa is nothing short of a coup d’etat that may, in the end, deliver yet another Arab capital to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

An Unpredictable Yemeni Domestic Scene

In justifying their military putsch, the Houthis accused President Hadi of subverting an all-party agreement at a National Dialogue Conference in 2014 – part of a November 2011 initiative proposed by the Gulf Cooperation Council in answer to widespread pro-reform protests. Participants in the dialogue had agreed to write a new constitution, the draft of which still awaits ratification by popular referendum. The new charter creates a federated Yemeni state composed of six regions to replace the current 22 administrative divisions.

The pro-Iranian Houthi triumph in Sanaa is nothing short of a coup d’etat that may, in the end, deliver yet another Arab capital to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Desiring autonomy and eventual independence, the Houthis, who currently comprise about 30 percent of the population, prefer a condominium between a northern and a southern region that many believe would be demarcated along the pre-1990 division of the northern Republic of Yemen and the defunct southern People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. Such a division would presumably give the Houthis control over the north where their numbers would not be excessively diluted by Sunnis. With the desired division, they could either simply enjoy long-term self-rule or await propitious circumstances to declare independence in a northern rump state that would be a re-incarnation of the old Imamate that died over half a century ago. As for the southern secessionists, whose leader Ali Salem al-Beidh resides in Beirut as a guest in Hezbollah’s southern suburbs, the dissolution of the current union would help them realize a long-held desire to re-establish a state they believe would free them of the oppression of northern politicians.

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Tenth Manama Dialogue and Regional Challenges

By Dr. John Duke Anthony and Dr. Imad Kamel Harb

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High level delegates from about twenty countries will meet in the Bahraini capital Manama on December 5-7. They will convene to debate regional realities of defense and security. Among the unwelcome developments since last year’s gathering have been Israel’s heightened provocation, oppression, dis-possession, and ongoing denial of the rights of Palestinian Arab Christians and Muslims among its citizens and those under its continuing illegal occupation. The participants are also faced with the further rise and sweep of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS); the Houthi advances in Yemen to the capital in Sanaa and beyond to the Red Sea and Hudeidah, the country’s second largest port; and the problematic and yet-again-extended negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.

The Islamic State

F-16 Desert Falcons from the UAE Air Force

F-16 Desert Falcons from the UAE Air Force lined up during joint training with the U.S. in 2011. Photo: U.S. Air Force.

Few intelligence analysts and political and security watchers predicted that an extremist Islamist faction in Syria’s civil war would sweep with such force through northern Iraq, threaten Baghdad, and inch its way through the country’s western Anbar Province to within range of Saudi Arabia’s borders. Indeed, the confused and confusing battlefield in Syria has again proven that it can spawn the kinds of circumstances, events, and players that at once threaten to destabilize the Levant and pose what, a year ago, were then unforeseen challenges to the Arabian Peninsula and Gulf regions. Just as dangerous in the rise and advance of ISIS has become the lure, to many recruits to its ranks, of its millennial ideology and its promise to establish an unsullied Islamic Caliphate that would redress Muslim grievances.

One of the most difficult issues confronting the Manama Dialogue participants is how to address the multifaceted causative underpinnings of the threat that ISIS poses to regional stability and peace. Having the necessary military means to protect against real and imagined threats is one thing. Being able to mobilize, deploy, and effectively implement such means is another. Of the two, the latter is vexing as it is pinned to the hope of containing and countering, if not delivering a mighty body blow, to regional radicalism and violent extremism that would discredit and severely weaken the appeal of such phenomena for far into the future. That a small militant faction like ISIS, which was originally armed with only the most rudimentary weapons it had collected on the Syrian battlefield, was able to roll over a well-armed Iraqi army proved two interrelated facts that contained important lessons.

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The Dynamics of Future Saudi Arabian-Iranian Relations in Context

All is not well in Arabia and the Gulf. The further unraveling of security and stability in Iraq has exemplified this and more to the increasingly beleaguered government of Iraqi Arab Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad, the country’s capital. The accelerated breakdown of law and order in the land between the rivers has also rattled the governments and political dynamics of Iran, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Yemen, and the six member-countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. 

Among these countries, Saudi Arabia and Iran are of out-sized importance. Greater information, insight, and knowledge about how these two competitors for regional prominence perceive, interact with, and analyze and assess the likely intentions of the other – not just regarding Iraq but also Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon – is essential to understanding key trends and indications in Arabia and the Gulf at the present time and where the region is likely to be headed in the days to come. 

It is in this context that the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations is privileged to present the essay that follows by National Council Distinguished International Affairs Fellow Dr. Imad Kamel Harb. Dr. Harb recently returned to Washington, DC after spending the previous seven years working as a researcher and analyst in the GCC region. 

Dr. Harb previously worked to help rehabilitate the Iraqi higher education sector as a Senior Program Officer for Education at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). There he authored a USIP Special Report on “Higher Education and the Future of Iraq,” published in 2008. 

Since earning his PhD from the University of Utah, Dr. Harb has been an Adjunct Professor at San Francisco State University, the University of Utah, Georgetown University, George Washington University, the University of Maryland, and the Middle East Institute. 

Dr. John Duke Anthony


THE DYNAMICS OF FUTURE SAUDI ARABIAN-IRANIAN RELATIONS IN CONTEXT

By Dr. Imad Kamel Harb

June 12, 2014

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Recent diplomatic overtures emanating from Saudi Arabia about possibilities for a thawing of relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran are unlikely to produce their desired results. Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal’s recent invitation to his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to visit the kingdom was tepidly received at the Iranian Foreign Ministry.

A potential visit by the former Iranian President, and former Chairman of the Assembly of Experts, Ayatullah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, itself originating from an invitation by the new Saudi Ambassador to Tehran, Abdul-Rahman bin Ghorman, still awaits the approval of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatullah Ali Khamenei.

Myriad contentious issues from Bahrain to Yemen to Iraq, and from Lebanon to Syria have had the two countries’ leaderships at loggerheads and made anentente improbable. Indeed, Iranian-Arab acrimony promises to be the state of affairs for the foreseeable future, negatively affecting regional peace and inter-communal relations between the Gulf’s Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

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