Saudi Arabia has gone head to head with Russia as Iran's ally in Yemen.
Moscow claims to have evacuated hundreds of Russian nationals from Yemen by an air lift running out of Sanaa airport, but debkafile’s exclusive intelligence and military sources reveal that not a single Russian plane has taken off from any Yemeni airport since March 27, when Saudi Arabia launched its military offensive against the pro-Iranian Houthi rebels.
The Saudiis warned Russia that they would not be responsible for the safety of any flights landing at a Yemeni airport or the passengers assembled there for evacuation, while their air force conducted strikes against the rebels. Having achieved control of Yemen’s skies in the early stages of their intervention, the Saudis declared its air space a no-fly zone.
This warning gained substance when, on April 1, Saudi F-15 warplanes bombed the Russian consulate in the second largest Yemeni city, Aden. A Russian witness said that not a single window was left in the building and all Russian citizens would have to leave the town.
According to debkafile’s sources, the building was in fact completely demolished in order to dismantle Russia’s regional intelligence-gathering center which operated out of the consulate building and fed Iranian intelligence with data on military movements in the neighborhood.
It functioned according to the same system as Russian spy stations in Syria, which routinely keep their Iranian colleagues au fait with military activities, including Israeli army movements.
The intelligence gathered by the Aden facility was no doubt passed on by Iranian agents to the Houthi commanders, certainly after Al Qods Brigades chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani arrived in Sanaa to direct the rebel offensive after the Saudi offensive was launched.
In normal times, the Russian spy facility would have been responsible for surveillance over navigation through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait and the warships sailing between Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.
The next chapter of the Russian evacuation story unfolded on Thursday, April 2, the day after the consulate was razed: The Russians tried activating their connections in Cairo to obtain Saudi permission to land a plane in Sanaa, where hundreds of Russians had crowded to await passage to safety.
The Saudis relayed their refusal to Moscow through Cairo.
Then, on Friday, April 3, a flight landed at Moscow’s Chkalovsky Airport carrying Russian evacuees from Yemen, followed by a second flight which landed at an unnamed Russian military airport.
debkafile’s sources report that neither of those planes were actually permitted to take off from Sanaa, but flew in from Cairo. After the Saudi ban on flights through Yemeni airports, Moscow had no choice but to rescue its nationals from the embattled country by sea aboard ships that carried them to Egypt.