Last Wednesday, the Iranian-backed Houthi group and Iranian Shahed drones targeted the Qena Oil Port – which likely does not appear on Google maps – in the third attack of its kind within a month as part of an aggressive plot aimed at disrupting oil production and export that is controlled by the legitimate authority backed by the Coalition Forces Supporting Legitimacy, led by Saudi Arabia, with the influential participation of the UAE.
The Houthis are aware of the sensitivity of the oil sector, and international cross-border companies operate within it. International tankers are relied on to transport the oil, which makes it prone to being stopped, given the threats and armed attacks by the Houthis amid their insistence on imposing their demands that the oil revenues – or part of them – be allocated for paying the salaries of the large civil, military, and security agencies controlled by the Iranian-backed rebels. They rely on them to establish their power and fight their opponents.
Perhaps what these sectarian rebels and their supporters are most keen on is turning the oil revenues into a military power that they control on their own, after it was not possible to impose it as an executable negotiating point in the stalled negotiations to renew the truce. They want to free it of any prior commitments in this regard that they made as part of the Stockholm understanding, signed in December of 2018.
Today, amid news of the possible paralysis of the Yemeni energy production sector, which threatens the ability of the fragmented legitimate authority to continue, operate and meet the usual minimum needs of the Yemeni people, matters seem to have been settled in favour of the agenda of the rebels and their supporters. This puts the Coalition Forces Supporting Legitimacy at risk as a party that has, indeed, failed to achieve the basic legitimate goals in Yemen, failed to achieve security in the strategic depth of its two states, and caused the Yemeni State to be completely paralysed, especially after the Presidential Leadership Council was imposed over the legitimate authority. The Council includes eight people who represent conflicting political projects and find it difficult to meet and perform their tasks smoothly and with positive interaction.
The legitimate authority and its head, in particular, as well as the government, seems completely stripped of any efficient and deterrent weapon in the face of the Iranian drones that were placed in the hands of the rebel group in Sana'a. Enabling this authority to obtain weapons to protect vital economic facilities and civilians is not on the agenda of the Coalition. Worse than that, this legitimate authority, especially after armed formations were incorporated into it and the tense political formations, does not seem ready to deal with it at the level of responsibility required by the threats. There are leaders in this legitimate authority who wish for the fall of Marib more than the Houthis.
We do not rule out the Houthi attacks being part of the plot, joined with the separatists who believe that their south is rich in unlimited wealth, and it is time for the northerners to stop exploiting them. This is in addition to the opportunity that the inability of the current legitimate authority may provide to dismantle it permanently, thus enabling separatist projects in the south and sectarianism in the north to divide the legacy of the war and its benefits according to its malicious regional scheme.
The attacks carried out by the Houthis on the oil sector drew condemnation from the Western ambassadors concerned with the war in Yemen, a trend that is consistent with Saudi efforts to re-brand the issue of classifying the Houthi group as a terrorist organisation. This is especially since the terms used in the Western ambassadors' statements are strong and firmly condemn these attacks, describing them as terrorist attacks.
Does Yemen have to descend into an abyss of poverty, destitution, hunger, insecurity, displacement and paralysis so that Saudi Arabia can push Iran's allies in Yemen into the circle of international targeting, while it can still reach this goal by a legitimate means, which is to defeat the Houthis militarily by enabling the national army to get the job done?
There are fears that the military attacks against oil facilities and oil tankers destined for Yemeni ports may achieve some of what the security and US envoys need in order to reach the point of renewing the truce by making concessions imposed by the rebels in Sanaa. It seems as if the success of these failed envoys depends on further weakening and fragmenting legitimacy.
If such a possibility it true – and we do not rule it out – it would be a catastrophe that has befallen and continues to befall Yemen, with clear execution by an extremely opportunistic and hostile international community.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 13 November 2022
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.