Iran-Yemen relations | The Times of Israel
Saudi Arabia and Iran - two powerful neighbours - are locked in a He is waging a war against rebels in Saudi Arabia's southern neighbour, Yemen, ally of Iran, though paradoxically it also retains a close relationship with. Iran and Yemen have had cordial, if tepid, relations since the Iranian Revolution in Ties between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government in Aden, however, have The US and Saudi Arabia have also accused Iran's allies in Lebanon and Syria of also supporting the Yemeni government in Sanna. Iran has also. Smoke rises above Sanaa, Yemen following a Saudi-led coalition air by regional Shia power Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni.
Saudi Arabia's concerns about who would preside over the most populous country on the kingdom's lengthy southern doorstep were, therefore, understandable. The record to date reflects Saudi Arabian support for the regime of President Saleh, who has provided Yemen a degree of leadership continuity and stability that had not existed since the country's revolution.
Soon after Saleh's assumption of the presidency inRiyadh established a close relationship with the former military officer. The Aid Factor From the s until several years prior to the Kuwait crisis, Saudi Arabia provided significant infrastructural and financial aid to Yemen.
However, owing largely to the downturn in oil prices and government revenues from onwards, the kingdom had little choice but to suspend its project aid and financial transfers to the Yemen government.
Having underwritten a large portion of Yemen' s development needs through direct cash payments and in-kind contributions, Saudi Arabia, from the mids to the mids, helped pay for a substantial portion of the medical clinics, hospitals, mosques and schools built in Yemen.
Moreover, Saudia, the national airline of Saudi Arabia, took a major equity stake in Yemen's national air carrier, Yemenia, as a means of enabling Yemen to have its own independent fleet of civil aircraft.
In addition, dating from a specific clause in the Taif Treaty ofNorth Yemenis were allowed to enter and work in Saudi Arabia without a visa.
Yemenis contest this point. One high-ranking official went so far as to state, "The idea that Saudi Arabia 'allowed' Yemenis to enter and work in the kingdom is highly exaggerated. It was a matter of right and recognized as such in the side letters to the Taif Treaty.
Yet, in emphasizing what they claim to have been their predecessors' intent, they view the matter not so much in terms of a "right" as a "privilege" - one granted no other nationality- that the kingdom agreed to extend to Yemen at the time of the Taif Treaty.
Regardless of how one interprets the treaty, officials from both countries acknowledge that, by the late s, more than a million and a half Yemenis annually resided within the kingdom. Using the yardstick of an average of seven Yemenis per nuclear family, and September official census figures that put the Yemeni population at Moreover, for more than a decade, dating from the mids, annual remittances sent home from Yemeni workers in Saudi Arabia were the single largest source of Yemen's foreign exchange.
Through this assistance, Sanaa was able to cover its annual balance-of-payments deficits. In the aftermath of the cessation of official Saudi Arabian and other GCC countries' aid inRiyadh has continued its longstanding policy of providing cash subsidies to prominent personalities and leaders of tribes in the northern and westernmost regions of Yemen, where the de facto borders of the two countries come together.
According to some Saudi Arabians, a major objective in providing such payments has been to ensure a measure of peace and stability. Many Yemenis, however, claim that the underlying motivation of the aid givers has not been altruism but opportunism.
The recipients of such aid from the kingdom have often been among the principal forces of opposition to the regime in Sanaa. Yemeni critics and many outside observers of such an arrangement have long complained that such policies represent an intrusion into the domestic affairs of a neighboring country. The critique, however, overlooks or downplays the following: The Civil War In stark contrast to this evidence of one country's assistance to another was Saudi Arabia's and other GCC countries' de facto support for an attempted breakaway movement from April to July The six GCC countries contributed a substantial sum to support the failed secessionist bid.
The money was allocated for arms and related forms of assistance designed to ensure the insurgents' victory. In the end, none of the arms actually reached the rebels, U.
Some Saudi Arabian and Yemeni analysts agree that the GCC countries' policies were forged in response to former South Yemeni leaders' skill at playing upon the following: The latter factor dates from the era of British control over South Yemen from to During that period, South Yemenis had a long and close relationship with what would become the GCC countries based on trade - especially with Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia - and on the trust and confidence inspired by those who served in the security forces of Bahrain and Qatar as well as the seven Trucial States from the United Arab Emirates.
Despite these relationships, the rebels were unable to counter or compensate for three other factors, which doomed their effort from the start. One was their underestimation of President Saleh.
Although the Yemeni president accepted almost every international call for a cease-fire, he urged his commanders on the ground to continue fighting until the rebels surrendered.
Second, the rebels could hardly have chosen a more inappropriate time to declare their attempt to secede. Their move came barely months after the United States announced its "Two MRCs Policy" of intervening in no more than "two major regional crises" at a time.
With one key component of U. Third, even without Washington's "Two MRCs Policy," which some American analysts insist was not a factor in any event, the United States and the GCC countries would have been hard-pressed to reconcile their support for a breakaway government in Yemen with their simultaneous insistence on maintaining the territorial integrity of the countries of the region.
Indeed, providing such support would have contradicted both the Clinton administration's and the GCC countries' commitment to a unified Iraq, despite the many Kurds in the north and Shia in the south who, given their preference, would opt for the creation of autonomous entities or independent states.
Changed Circumstances Of greater relevance to understanding Saudi-Yemeni developments since the latter half of the s are the following points: Diplomacy's Challenge Overcoming the remaining obstacles will try the patience and skill of the best mediators and negotiators on both sides.
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One issue is the reported willingness of Saudi Arabia to readmit as many asYemeni workers, two-thirds the number of those residing in the kingdom prior to the Kuwait crisis. These workers lacked visas and sponsorship and were repatriated. If Saudi Arabia is willing to readmit them, it would be evidence of Riyadh's interest in arriving at a mutually beneficial agreement.
If compensation were the issue, it would be proof as well of the kingdom's ability to devise "creative financing. Already, more thanYemenis are residing in the kingdom. The latter number includes those who, through special arrangements, managed to return since the Kuwait crisis and others who, through one means or another, never left. Laboring the Point If anotherYemenis were allowed to return to the kingdom to work, nearly five million additional Yemenis would stand to benefit in terms of their economic well-being.
Sanaa, moreover, would gain access to a source of desperately needed hard currency. With the resultant increase in revenues, Yemen's political and economic stability might improve. The country's deteriorating economic situation was a key factor behind the June demonstrations against the government's price hikes on fuel, electricity, water and other vital commodities.
However, rapid and potentially far-reaching changes within the kingdom's own work force compound the uncertainties and complexities of how the Yemeni labor factor may or may not enhance the prospects for a settlement.
SinceSaudi Arabia has mounted a major campaign known as "Saudization" to reduce the country's reliance on expatriate workers. A major objective of Saudization is to increase the number of employment opportunities for the kingdom's citizens. In the process, more than a million and a half illegal foreign workers - the overwhelming majority from South and Southeast Asian countries - have been repatriated.
The percentage of positions previously held by these workers that is likely to be filled by Saudi Arabians and the percentage that might be filled by Yemenis are, at this writing, unknowns. Legal Considerations With regard to the "right" of Yemen is to live and work in Saudi Arabia without a visa, the international legal principle of rebus sic stantibus changing circumstances may apply. The issue m question is whether a signatory to an international bilateral treaty that contains certain provisions beneficial to the other party can be legally compelled to uphold the provision under any and all circumstances.
In the 66 years since the Taif Treaty came into force, intervening circumstances, over which neither side has had either control or adequate influence, have radically and profoundly altered beyond recognition the ones that were in play when the benefit was bestowed. Saudi Arabia would be held legally liable for enforcement of a provision regarding the right of the then North Yemenis to live and work in the kingdom without a visa or local sponsor.
This would be tantamount to requiring that, as a matter of law as well as policy, Riyadh do something that could produce immediate and substantial adverse consequences to its own citizens, who are in greater need of employment opportunities than ever before.
By what system of law, Saudi Arabians ask, could a country be forced to adhere to terms of a treaty two-thirds of a century old that could pose a serious threat to its economic, social and, potentially, political stability? Finally, providing further insight into the diminishing prospects for special treatment being extended to Yemeni laborers, in AugustSaudi Arabia waived its Saudization policy for nationals of fellow GCC states. In exchange, Riyadh received similar exemption from other GCC countries' efforts to reduce their dependence on foreign labor.
It is true that some native Saudi Arabians and others of Yemeni ancestry would like to revert to the pre-May situation of a divided Yemen.
These individuals fall mainly into two categories. The first is made up of an older and more conservative generation. The second category has two sub-groups: Yemenis living in various GCC states, Egypt, Syria, the United kingdom and elsewhere who long to return to the days when they were in power; and expatriates of both countries who are attracted to the potential for personal gain in the establishment of an additional Yemen.
The interplay among such phenomena as globalization, privatization, market economies and revolutionary technologies are all relevant in assessing Yemen's development prospects. Yemen's southern port city of Aden, a British Crown Colony from tois the vortex in which all four factors come together. Positioned at the southernmost reaches of the Red Sea and at the far northwestern quadrant of the Indian Ocean, Aden straddles the world's major east-west maritime routes.
The port of Aden, one of the largest natural harbors in the Middle East, is an area of potentially great economic opportunity for shipping companies, international freight forwarders and industrial and free trade-zone investors. After serving for a century as a strategic outpost of the British empire, Aden, together with the southern Omani port of Salalah, has returned to a potentially front-and-center position for some of the world's largest shipping lines.
The latter controls more than half of the world's maritime container-cargo trade. Maersk is actively engaged in expanding Salalah's port facilities to capture some of the highly lucrative seaborne commerce bound for the Gulf, the Indian subcontinent and points east. Singapore was one of the first Southeast Asian countries to accept the implications of globalization and to carve out a niche for itself within that context.
In time, Singapore, also a former British Crown Colony, may be judged as equally prescient for being the first among its neighbors to add or - in the process of re-evaluating globalization in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis - to re-add regional and sub-regional components to its economic destiny. In analyzing the economic dynamics and technological transformations occurring within the international shipping industry, PSA has revisited the adage that, in commercial competition, location can spell the difference between success and failure.
A Nautical Necklace Yemeni development officials and PSA and other would-be investors in Yemen's port facilities, in delving into the region's modern history, did not have to look far for evidence supporting their assessment of Aden's future prospects. As an aid to empire, the barren volcanic rock outcropping of Aden was initially valued as a coaling station to support British naval and commercial needs. Init took on added economic, military and geostrategic importance following the opening of the Suez Canal.
Events surrounding the canal in this century, however, twice pushed Aden out of the picture. The first time followed Israel's invasion of Egypt inwhich closed the canal for nearly a year. The second resulted from Israel's invasion of Egypt inwhich shut the canal for eight years, until In the s, Aden ranked behind only the ports of London, New York and Liverpool in terms of number of ships and tonnage handled.
For this reason, Great Britain, which ruled Aden until its independence as part of South Yemen indid the following: In addition, the American firms Caltex, Exxon and Mobil established terminals in Aden to serve the bunkering fuel requirements of their ships and those of their customers.
For these reasons, the United States, until well into the s, was only lukewarm to the idea of Aden's becoming independent of British rule.
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As the s progressed and the United States deepened its military involvement in Vietnam, Washington wanted London to retain sovereign control over its bases at Aden and elsewhere in South Yemen.
Military strategists in the Johnson administration viewed these bases as allied assets upon which they hoped the United States could rely if the Southeast Asian conflict escalated. The Constraints The situation today, however, is remarkably different. Aden is a prime site for the hub of the next century's international maritime traffic and container cargo.
Still, most potential project financiers and would-be joint-venture partners are reluctant to invest in Yemen due to its uncertain prospects for sustained economic and political stability. In what is viewed by many as a troublesome and risky neighborhood, most foreign investment remains a coward. Yemeni officials also acknowledge that the port's bloated civil-servant labor force - a remnant from the days of socialism and Soviet influence -is an additional disincentive to foreign and national investors.
Another of Aden's challenges is the replacement or updating of the port's antiquated infrastructure and equipment, very little of which has been modernized since the British withdrew in Compounding the situation are innumerable complex claims to the land surrounding the port.
These claims were filed by Aden is who insist on the return of property that was confiscated by the former socialist regime. The land in dispute encompasses an area that planners envisage transforming into an industrial free-trade zone.
Time, Law and Venture Capital The solution to these constraints requires time, adequate legal redress for the litigants and considerable investment. All of these are dependent upon a combination of variables, chief among which are sustained political stability and success in implementing free-market, privatization and related economic reforms.
Meanwhile, Adenis and other South Yemenis will likely remain central to Aden's port and to its future industrial operations.
This continues to buttress the hopes of some that a separate South Yemen wi11 be created, once again showcasing Aden as its commercial center and political capital, but this time with two additional features - an industrial free-trade zone and a role as a regional hub for international container cargo. This said, many who once favored this option - and they include those who lost their positions of power as far back as the transformation from colonial rule to national sovereignty in - effectively shelved their dream when Yemen's civil war ended in Even those who cling to the hope admit that this possibility, at least for the foreseeable future, has been marginalized.
None of its proponents are in positions of power or have sufficient influence, either by themselves or in association with outside powers, to make it a reality. The quest to develop Aden's economic and commercial potential, however, remains a key factor in Yemen's hope of being able to solve its border dispute with Saudi Arabia in the near future.
In addition, wealthy Saudi Arabians of Yemeni ancestry- for example, the Bin Mahfouz Group, owners of the National Commercial Bank, the kingdom's largest - have a substantial stake in Aden's development prospects, having committed, in the mid-l s, more than a quarter of a billion dollars in investment. An analysis of this perspective reveals the following: The Minuses Throughout not only the era of British imperialism in south Arabia but also the period of independence sincethe Hadramaut and Mahra have been part of a larger governmental entity.
In this century, they have never been independent. In contrast to what used to be North Yemen and the western part of what was South Yemen - specifically Aden, the capital - their people lack skills and first-hand experience in diplomacy and national defense; Moreover, unlike Aden and South Yemen, the Hadramaut and Mahra have no record of modern industry.
Their people inhabit a subsistence-level farming and fishing region. Despite recent oil production in the Hadramaut, there is no refinery or energy industry; While a breakaway South Yemen and any combined or separate effort to sever the country's easternmost parts are definitely opposed by Sanaa, it is not known whether a successful breakaway south, with its would-be capital presumably in Aden, would support or oppose a breaking away by the Hadramaut and Mahra to establish their own independent state.
The Pluses Hadramis are culturally distinct. In recent centuries, they have shared a broader and longer common history than their Yemeni fellow citizens in the western parts of the country; There are many wealthy Hadramis working in the GCC countries, some of whom might wish either to return to try to make even greater fortunes in a new East Yemen or give favorable consideration to becoming major investors in such a state; and The region has significant tourist potential, not only as a living archaeological museum, but also as a tourist destination with nearly a thousand miles of unspoiled beaches and islands.
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This fourth possibility has caught the eye of private sector investors in some GCC countries. Quite a few are keen to bid on the potentially lucrative business opportunities that would likely follow any decision to build a pipeline, refinery or export terminal and related facilities in the region.
More Minuses than Pluses Even were such schemes to succeed, the gains to Saudi Arabia and others that might accrue would likely be far outweighed by the disadvantages: Incurring region-wide condemnation for promoting the break-up of an Arab state; Generating an additional major foreign assistance responsibility; and Creating a potentially far-reaching precedent for other would-be breakaway movements in Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Sudan and Turkey.
Yemen's Political System and Its Neighbors Many Yemenis believe that Saudi Arabia and other GCC states are disenchanted with Yemen's form of governance and the extent to which it has encouraged popular participation in the political process.
In Sanaa, the official line is that Yemen's political situation is unique and not for export, that its antecedents predate unification in Mayand that since then the citizenry's sense of national unity has been strengthened. At the unofficial level, many Yemenis find it difficult to resist boasting about their country's political achievements over the past decade.
They express doubts that neighboring and other nearby countries could be pleased. Many Yemenis have indicated to this analyst that they think the GCC countries' leaders see key aspects of Yemen's political system as being at odds with their own. They don't appreciate the degree of freedom of expression allowed, and they would like it to stop. Several high-ranking Saudi Arabian officials agree. They point to their next-door neighbor Kuwait, where, for over 40 years, experiments in expanding popular participation in the political process have taken place.
Kuwait's history of press freedoms and parliamentary as well as student, cooperative and trade-union elections is considerably more advanced than what has occurred to date in unified Yemen.
The Absence of Alternatives The kinds of governmental structures that Yemen has had in the recent past have no counterparts in the Arab Middle East or the wider Islamic world. Forty years ago, Yemen consisted of one imamate, one sharifdom, one British Crown colony, one federation, two countries comprising the Yemen Arab Republic North Yemen and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen South Yementwo protectorates, four sultanates, and 17 shaikhdoms, states or emirates.
In addition, prior tothe same British Aden and South Yemen-related jurisdiction administered all of these governments except the imamate which was independent and based in Sanaaas well as islands in the Red Sea off North Yemen; in the Indian Ocean off South Yemen and East Africa; and far to the north and east in the area south of the Arabian Sea, off Oman.
Most observers who have studied the alternatives find it remarkable that a single country could have emerged from so many disparate entities. Indeed, among specialists there exists a national, regional and international consensus that it is difficult to imagine how either the unification of Yemen in May or the country's subsequent national development process could have occurred - or could be sustained - in any other way.
By what other form of government or political process could one envision an avowedly Marxist government - led by the South's Yemen Socialist party YSP merging with an ardently anti-communist regime North Yemen?
And where else can one find a parallel to what happened afterwards? The leaders of South Yemen's largely single-party socialist regime agreed with the General People's Congress, the party of many officials and leading personalities in the north, to share power with a third major party, Isiah.
And with a population that is 35 percent Shia, Yemen could serve as a potentially friendly base of operations in Iran's rivalry against Saudi Arabia. For Iran, easier access to Yemen means easier access to Saudi Arabia.
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But is that really Iran's intent? And in Januarya cache of weapons seized from a ship off the coast of Yemen was reported by CNN to have Iranian markings. It included surface-to-air missiles, C-4 explosives, and other weapons, all allegedly destined for the Houthis. For Saudi Arabia, which shares a porous 1,km southern border with Yemen, the stakes there are high. According to a November article by Middle East Voices, Saudi intelligence officials consider Yemen to be the weakest security link in the Gulf and "easy prey for Tehran to penetrate and manipulate".
The Saudi-Yemen border also serves as the primary point of infiltration for AQAP, which is still considered the biggest terrorist threat to the kingdom. The Saudis are still reeling from the loss of their of long time ally, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was forced to step down as Yemen's president in From the Saudi perspective, Yemen has been on a downward spiral ever since.
For the Saudis, the Houthis arriving in Sanaa is definitely not good news. Line in the sand So what does this mean? Is Yemen really that important to Saudi Arabia and Iran? The short answer is yes, and each side seems prepared to draw their proverbial line in the sand.
For Saudi Arabia, what happens south of their border is a matter of grave national security, particularly now that the future of Yemen is in question. They cannot allow instability there to give Iran a solid foothold on the peninsula or AQAP free movement northwards.
Iran's line in the sand is Iraq and Syria. Both those countries serve as buffers between Iran and the Sunni Middle East, so having stable and dependable Shia-led governments in each serves as a strategic objective that is non-negotiable for Iran.
Which brings up the Yemen card, a strategic bargaining chip that Iran may now be holding vis-a-vis the sudden rise of the Houthis and anticipated domestic chaos that is sure to plague the country for the foreseeable future.
By playing it, Iran would seek to pressure the Saudis to tread lightly in Iraq and Syria or risk a concerted effort to further undermine them from their southern border.
The question now is, will the Saudis make their stand in Yemen or blink?