The Saudi-Emirates’ partial capture of Hudaydah airport from the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels on Saturday, June 16, came on the third day of their offensive to capture the important Red Sea port town. This success is already strategically significant in six ways, DEBKAfile analysts report:
- The assault force for capturing Hudaydah consists mainly of around 25,000 troops of Yemeni army units opposed to the Houthi insurgency. They have seized positions around Hudaydah airport that afford fire control of the runways. Therefore, Yemeni jets cannot land reinforcements for helping the roughly 2,000 Houthi fighters repulse the Saudi-UAE assault.
- DEBKAfile’s military sources estimate that the assault force had no need to call on the strategic reserves prepared outside the airfield in view of the Houthis’ weakened condition. In the past year, the movement has suffered from internal strife with reciprocal assassinations among rival chiefs.
- After several delays in the past year, US President Donald Trump, who regards the two crown princes, Muhammad bin-Salman of Saudi Arabia and Sheikh Muhammed bin Ziyad, as allies, gave them the green light to go forward. US aid consists of intelligence for marking targets, precision weapons for Saudi and UAE air force and artillery units and mid-air refueling for coalition air raids. The UAE is fielding about 1,500 special operations forces and the Saudis, a fleet of helicopters
- UN and European agencies tried to prevent the offensive by maintaining that it would have dire consequences for the 22 million Yemenis who depend on the only seaport through which humanitarian aid reaches the country. Their warning does not stand up to scrutiny. The civil war has plunged Yemen in one of the world’s worst human disasters, with many millions on the brink of famine. The human disaster only worsened while Houthis controlled Hadaydah and its port, because there was no one to distribute the incoming assistance to the needy population. In fact, relieving the town from the Houthis’ stranglehold will open the way for incoming assistance to reach those in need in all parts of the country. The Saudis announced in advance that, after they liberated the town of 700,000 inhabitants from the Iran-backed insurgency, they would hand over care for the population to the UN.
- It turns out that the scope of Iranian support for the Houthi movement was exaggerated. It boiled down mainly to supplying missiles, including ground-to sea weapons and technology for building and launching rockets. Tehran’s military assistance to the Houthis came nowhere near its investment in the Lebanese Hizballah group. At the same time, Houdaydah’s fall to Iran’s adversaries, Saudi-Emirati forces, would be a major military and strategic punch in the eye for Tehran, which had planned to set up its main Red Sea naval base at this Yemeni port.
- The joint offensive was launched less than a week after Saudi Arabia and the UAE formally established a new Gulf organization called the Saudi-Emirati Coordination Council, which effectively usurps the authority of the veteran Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Through the vibrant new Council, the two young crown princes and President Donald Trump will have acquired a mechanism for calling the shots in the oil-rich Gulf region.