Saudis Have Big Plans for a Divided Yemen
US President Barack Obama took the opportunity of his visit to London to pronounce Wednesday, May 25, on the fate of three Arab rulers still holding out against the Arab Spring.
On Libya, he said "I believe we have built enough momentum that as long as we sustain the course that we are on that he (Qaddafi) is ultimately going to step down."
On Yemen, "We call on President Saleh to move immediately on his commitment to transfer power.
And on Syria, "We will continue increasing pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad in order to end his policy of repression and begin the change that people seek. The Syrian leader must either lead his country through a democratic transition or get out of the way."
The common denominator between the three pronouncements is that none of them is happening.
Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi shows no inclination to step down. In fact, he is in advanced negotiations with rebel leaders for a truce (as we first reported in last week's DEBKA-Net-Weekly 493) that will force the Libyan National Transitional Council in Benghazi to jump aboard and establish a national council of reconciliation. (See also a separate report in this issue on the divergent views within NATO.)
Yemen starts tipping over into civil war
As for Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh's announcement this week that he has no intention of stepping down and transferring power sparked instantaneous violent clashes on Wednesday and Thursday May 25-26 that were clear portents of a new civil war.
For now, the clashes are limited to Sanaa, where the Hashid tribe headed by President Saleh's arch enemy Sheik Sadiq al Ahmar is battling with the Yemeni army and tribes loyal to the president. But it is only a matter of time before they spread outside the capital.
Prospects of widespread civil strife in Yemen confront the Obama administration's policies with two problems:
As well as opening the door for al Qaeda to pick sides and procure large quantities of arms and control of Yemeni terrain, the more immediate question is: What are the Saudis playing at?
When Obama called on Saleh to move immediately on his commitment to transfer power, he was referring to the compromise mediated by the Saudi-GCC group in the third week of May which included Saleh's commitment to step down within 30 days and hand power to the opposition.
However, Saleh got out of signing the final text at the last minute. He was saved from doing so by Riyadh, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Gulf sources report, which had hared off in pursuit of a double game which took the Americans by surprise.
As US Ambassador Gerald M. Feierstein shuttled by helicopter between the president and his opponents to obtain their consent to a deal, certain he was firmly backed by Saudi Arabia, Riyadh pulled the rug on him.
Creating a new Saudi-controlled republic in S. Yemen
Our sources report that the Saudis had decided at that point to dump the Yemeni president and with him the US effort to prevent a civil war. Henceforth, they would choose ad hoc which of the warring sides in the conflict best served Saudi interests.
When this week Saleh posted an SOS to Riyadh explaining that the Yemeni army propping up his regime was running out of gas, the Saudis immediately sent him a convoy of fuel tankers.
But the Saudis also sent out a second fuel convoy to the Yemeni president's enemies, the tribe led by Sheik al-Ahmar – another instance of Riyadh's double game.
In fact, Saudi Arabia's ruling royal, military and intelligence policy-makers have decided to stop taking sides in the Yemeni conflict and start playing a single-handed game of their own. They aim now to divide Yemen into two parts and build up the southern region with Saudi military and financial aid as an independent state under the oil kingdom's absolute influence.
If reaching this goal entails tearing Yemen apart by civil war, so be it. Riyadh has abandoned the Yemeni president to his fate and turned its back on US policy objectives.
Whereas Washington fears widespread hostilities will strengthen al Qaeda's grip on the country, the Saudis have set their sights on fencing off the embattled areas and enclosing them in the northern region so as to leave the south free with a chance of stable development.
No American solution for Syria either
It will be put in the hands of the Southern Separatist Movement whose leaders, Hassan Ba'aum, Nasser al-Nuba, Salah al-Shanfara and Saleh Yahya Said, are gaining in popularity in that region by their secessionist fight against the regime in Sanaa.
If Saudi plan works out, this new entity, already dubbed by Riyadh "The Arab Republic of Hadhramauth," will hold more land, control 80 percent of the national oil reserves and be ruled from the important Red Sea port of Aden.
The northern half, where the Saudis are resolved to let the warring parties fight it out for dominance, will have the larger population.
As for Syria, President Bashar Assad is the only Arab dictator whom President Obama has not yet told explicitly to get out now. Had he done so, he would almost certainly have achieved the same effect as he did in Egypt and Tunisia where popular movements were encouraged to overthrow both rulers.
Instead, the Syrian uprising is dragging on into its fourth month against brutal repression, sidetracking American influence in Damascus like in Tripoli and Sanaa.