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The UAE's withdrawal from Yemen

Emirati minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, gestures during a press conference in Dubai about the situation in Yemen on 13 August 2018. [KARIM SAHIB / AFP/Getty]
Emirati minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, in Dubai, UAE on 13 August 2018. [KARIM SAHIB / AFP/Getty]

There have been several media reports about the withdrawal of the Emirati forces operating within the so-called Arab Alliance for the restoration of legitimacy in Yemen. All of the direct and indirect reports achieved their goal quickly, i.e. to create a massive media atmosphere surrounding the matter and making a bigger deal about it in the media that is bigger than its size and reality. What is behind these statements? What is the truth behind the withdrawal? Why at this time? How is it related to the Iranian escalation in the region? What impact does all of this have on the course of war and peace in Yemen? What consequences will it have on the Arab Alliance? Are these statements related to the possibility of an Emirati- Iranian agreement behind the scenes?

There is talk of an Emirati military withdrawal from Yemen as if there are a large number of Emirati military forces in Yemen. However, there are only a few forces, consisting of officers, trainers, and consultants who are not on the battlefield, but instead in a fortified and safe military base. This is especially the case after the missile incident that claimed the lives of 45 Emirati soldiers in September 2015. Rebels launched the missile on the Sahn al-Jin military camp in Ma'arib. Consequently, the UAE significantly reduced its presence. Moreover, the UAE had announced its withdrawal from Yemen a year ago, before denying it at the time.

In general, these statements come in at a sensitive time in the region due to several circumstances, beginning with the American-Iranian escalation and Tehran's threats, which are met with clear American coldness. This indicates a significant decline in the US's role in the Gulf during the leadership of current US President, Donald Trump, and Obama before him, in the face of the growing Iranian role in the region.

Read: Saudi Arabia moves to secure Yemen Red Sea ports after UAE drawdown

Before all of this, anyone observing the affairs in the region would have noticed the magnitude of the Iranian-Emirati relations and the accompanying arrangements in advance for the nature of the roles played by Abu Dhabi, especially since the nature of these relations remained effective and natural and did not experience any escalation, despite the war in Yemen. The economic ties remained intact, as the UAE is an essential channel to the world for Iran's economy, along with the trade volume between the two countries, which is over $20 billion a year. There is also a large Iranian community in the UAE, over half a million Iranians, and they play a significant economic and political role in the country. This information confirms that there is contact between the UAE and Iran regarding the Yemeni file, in particular, represented by the absence of any media tension and the state of service between the militias of both countries.

Deaths in Yemen Conflict - Cartoon [Sarwar Ahmed/MiddleEastMonitor]

Deaths in Yemen Conflict – Cartoon [Sarwar Ahmed/MiddleEastMonitor]

This includes the Southern Transitional Council, which was an Iranian wing in the south. Its members were trained in the militia camps in Saada before the coup. There is also a political alliance between the Houthis and the Southern Movement, which welcomed and blessed the coup, standing by and watching the Houthi militias invade the south. Only the Salafists and reformists fought and resisted the Houthis at the time, along with a few members of separation movements. Meanwhile, the members of the Southern Movement remained neutral towards the Houthis. Hence, question marks are surrounding the reported withdrawal. This is especially since the UAE does not have a strong military and has worked hard to train armed militias, all of which are working outside the circle of the Yemeni state security and military institutions.

This means that Abu Dhabi's press releases on the withdrawal are nothing but a new phase of Emirati policies in Yemen, introduced by controlling and dominating the state institutions in the temporary capital city of Aden and other cities. The launch of this phase is also manifested in talking about transitioning from the strategy of military resolution first, according to an Emirati spokesman, to a peace plan.

Read: Rights groups warn France of becoming partner in war on Yemen

This means that, by adopting this plan, the UAE has put Riyadh in a real dilemma regarding it bearing all the consequences of war and peace in Yemen, while evading these consequences itself. This includes preventing the Yemeni government from returning to Aden and allowing it access to its security, military, and civil institutions, such as airports and ports. The Emirati policies were clear from day one and were against everything related to the Yemeni legitimacy this manifested in the support and establishment of militias outside the state institutions in the south and the north. Its talk today about a withdrawal plan is merely the beginning of a phase of complete chaos and evading any responsibility and quickly avoiding the consequences, especially since the UAW has a bad reputation both locally and abroad. This is due to the hostile and foolish policies towards anything related to the revolutions of freedom, dignity, and democracy.

Will the Abu Dhabi withdrawal announcement have any implications on war and peace in Yemen? The issue of war and peace is purely domestic, although it has been transformed into a regional conflict. If the local actors lift their hands from the scene in Yemen, that does not mean the end of the war, given the fact that the Yemeni issue is a matter of a sectarian minority coup against the popular constitutional legitimacy. Failing to overthrow the coup means the continuation of the war and its continued complication.

As for the Arab alliance, all that is left of it is Saudi Arabia after the UAE announced its withdrawal. This is a major Saudi failure, in which the Kingdom fell into after handing over the war management to the UAE. This has made it easy for the UAE to control the course of the battle and the path reaching this end that put Saudi Arabia in a significant predicament regarding its national security, and in the eyes of the Yemenis and the international community as a whole.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 11 July 2019

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

ArticleIranMiddle EastOpinionSaudi ArabiaUAEYemen
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