It has been nearly eight years since the Saudi-led coalition initiated ruthless and barbarous aggression against Yemen, the most impoverished Arab nation, committing horrendous crimes against hapless Yemeni civilians.
The UN and human rights organisations have vehemently condemned Saudi Arabia for a wide range of outrageous violations, including the constant bombardment of civilian-populated areas and indiscriminately targeting various cities and rural areas.
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia’s naval blockade has decimated Yemen’s already emaciated economy, putting millions of Yemenis on the brink of the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe in modern history.
However, a tenuous truce has been established for about five months between the Sana’a-based Yemeni government and the Saudi-led coalition, which is being extended once every two months. Nonetheless, in recent weeks, the Western parties have stepped up their efforts to extend the truce for six months. But can this initiative be construed as a benevolent move only aimed at stopping the bloodshed in Yemen? The answer is “NO.”
Since February of last year, and with the conflagration of a devastating war in Ukraine, the energy supply crisis has become a vital issue for Western Europe and the United States.
Therefore, the Western parties are currently assiduous in their quest to tap into the maximum possible capacity of the world’s energy resources to replace the shrinking Russian oil and gas.
Herein lies Yemen’s significance for Europeans, albeit not merely for humanitarian reasons. According to petroleum geologists, Yemen’s oil and gas deposits are situated in Ma’rib, Shabwah, and Hadhramaut, three oil-rich governorates.
Since the beginning of the Saudi aggression on Yemen, the three oil-rich governorates have been the scene of acrimonious hostilities between different insurgent groups. Some of the rebels are affiliated with Saudi Arabia, while others swear allegiance to their masters in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
In recent months, with the ceasefire agreement in place, the conditions for looting Yemeni oil and its export by Western countries have been facilitated, and concomitantly, the intense infighting between various mercenary militias vying for a greater share of the windfall profits.
Simultaneously, the EU, which does not envisage any bright days looming due to the decrease in Russian gas exports, is looking desperately for Yemeni energy facilities that can alleviate some of Europe’s needs. Nonetheless, due to Yemen’s precarious political and military conditions, the volume of oil and gas extraction will remain low for the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, the UAE, which keeps surmising the situation in the global energy market will not get better, tries to use the ongoing scenario as a rare opportunity to gain economic and political concessions from Europe. To accomplish this goal, the UAE’s leadership has decided to extend its military clout in the south, which runs counter to the interests of its “Big Brother,” Saudi Arabia (KSA).
The Balhaf gas export terminal in the southern Shabwah governorate is home to Yemen’s LNG installations. Prior to 2015, it was fully operational, producing 7 million tonnes of LNG annually. Like all the colonialists, the largest shareholder of this facility is the French giant energy conglomerate, Total.
Interestingly, the UAE, which has steadily reinforced its military ties with the Élysée, inked an energy cooperation agreement in Yemen with the newly elected Macron last month.
According to some media reports, the secret deal includes bilateral cooperation in the Balhaf facilities, in a brazen disregard for Yemen’s sovereignty.
To partially comprehend the indispensable role of Balhaf facilities in providing France with LNG, it is necessary to mention that Paris imported about 3 million tonnes of LNG in June and May. It seems that the UAE is making a concerted effort to consolidate its grip over the Yemeni nation’s natural riches. Not long ago, local media outlets that support the Sana’a-based administration reported the deployment of French Foreign Legion around the Balhaf facilities.
Both the Sana’a-based government (Ansarullah Movement, also known as Houthis) and the opposition and the involved countries in the Yemeni crisis know that to exploit Yemen’s energy resources, it is imperative for all the parties implicated in the Yemeni conflict to participate in a durable ceasefire and lawful energy agreements.
In this regard, the Deputy Foreign Minister of the Sana’a government, Hussein al-Azi, warned the Saudi-led coalition, their mercenaries, and foreign corporations against continuing to plunder Yemen’s oil and gas wealth.
In this regard, during the last few days, the UAE-backed militias, such as al-Amaliqa Brigade, Tariq Saleh, and the secessionist Southern Transitional Council (STC), have stepped beyond political squabbles and entered into a military conflict with the al-Islah Party, Yemen’s offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has long been identified as a client of KSA.
So far, the UAE-backed militants have managed to drive out al-Islah Party from most of the Shabwah. According to the local media, the pro-UAE forces are ready to complete their control over all of Yemen’s southern districts and even Ma’rib to isolate their Saudi-backed adversaries even more.
Rashad al-Alimi, a Saudi protégée and the self-proclaimed president of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, has desperately ordered twice to halt the advance of the UAE-supported troops in oil-rich Shabwah, but to no avail. Al-Alimi came to power in April when Yemen’s fugitive, former President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, ceded authority to the eight-member political council.
Meanwhile, the Sana’a government, which had earlier invited the leaders of the al-Islah Party to join an alliance, reaffirmed its offer. An invitation that has not brought any tangible results so far.
In the wake of these unfolding developments, the Kremlin has embarked on a strategy to seal alliances with new international players, such as the Ansarullah Movement, in a bid to counter the growing Western pressures that Russians have faced since late February due to their special military campaign against Ukrainian neo-Nazi militias.
According to some Middle East experts, the official Russian approach has unequivocally altered vis-à-vis Yemen’s lingering crisis.
During his visit to Moscow, the head of the Ansarullah Movement delegation and its chief negotiator, Mohammed Abdulsalam, indicated in a press release on Thursday, August 11, 2022, that fundamental changes have emerged in the Russian political perspective and that the Kremlin realised that Yemen could be strategically influential. One possible interpretation of the burgeoning relationship between Yemenis and Russians is that Moscow may wish to engage in sabre-rattling against the inexorable American struggle to boost crude oil output by sabotaging the free passage of oil tankers through the Bab al-Mandab Strait.
Alternatively, Russia’s reception of the Houthi mission to Moscow can be read to convey a subtle message to Saudi Arabia, insinuating that raising oil production outside the OPEC agreement would create a more unstable regional milieu for the oil-rich kingdom.
It seems that European eyes are focused on Sana’a these days. As fuel and food supplies are in better condition than before, the Ansarullah Movement recovered its military strength during the fragile ceasefire period, despite the continuous violations of the truce by the Saudi-led coalition. Additionally, Sana’a has successfully concluded political negotiations with several Yemeni tribes.
In conclusion, the Saudis and their Emirati allies can avert a resumption of bloodshed in war-raged Yemen, but they must signal a positive response to the government of Sana’a’s legitimate demands.