Turkey sets sights on Yemen, raising regional security concerns

Cautious and virtually concealed, Turkish activity in Yemen is currently concentrated in three Yemeni coastal areas.
Saturday 09/05/2020
A 2016 file picture shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi (L) address a joint press conference in Ankara. (AFP)
Turkish agenda. A 2016 file picture shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi (L) address a joint press conference in Ankara. (AFP)

ADEN –Turkey’s growing presence in Yemen, especially in the restive southern region, is fuelling concern across the region over security in the Gulf of Aden and the Bab al-Mandeb.

 These concerns are further heightened by reports indicating that Turkey’s agenda in Yemen is being financed and supported by Qatar via some Yemeni political and tribal figures affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. They are thought to be aiming to blackmail the Arab-led coalition by creating a Turkish threat in the country and forming a new coalition that includes both Qatar and Oman.

 Turkey did so far tread carefully in Yemen, apparently waiting for a favourable moment to intervene and hoping for more support from the Yemeni government of Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi before moving in on the ground.

 Cautious and virtually concealed, Turkish activity in Yemen is currently concentrated in three Yemeni coastal areas: Shabwa, Socotra, and Al-Mukha district in Taiz governorate, according to anonymous sources in the country.

 In previous reports, The Arab Weekly shed light on the presence of Turkish intelligence elements in the Shabwa governorate under the cover of the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Organisation (IHH), which has been active in the province since it fell under the control of the Muslim Brotherhood in August.

 The Muslim Brotherhood’s growing influence into Shabwa coincided with increased hostility towards the Arab-led-coalition in Al Alam area in south-west Yemen, which has recently been the target of repeated mortar attacks. The attacks are thought to be aimed at cutting off food and medical supplies, eventually forcing coalition forces stationed there to leave.

 Once Al Alam area is under control, the Muslim Brotherhood hopes to reach the strategic Port of Balhaf, gaining leverage over critical gas exports and much-needed access to the coast that overlooks the Arabian Sea, a key gateway for any potential Turkish intervention and the shipment of crucial supplies from Turkish military bases in nearby Somalia.

In addition to suspicious activity in Taiz and Shabwa, reports point to Turkish efforts in ramping up tensions with the help of Socotra Governor Ramzi Mahrous. Tensions reportedly escalated following Mahrous’s return from a secret visit to Istanbul, during which he met Turkish and Qatari intelligence officers and Muslim Brotherhood leaders.

The developments mean that Turkey has assumed a greater political role in southern Yemen through the country’s local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is helping Turkish charities gain influence.

“The Islah (Reform) party is instrumental in giving Turkish institutions and the Turkish government, all masquerading as charity organisations, access to Yemeni cities,” said Yemeni political analyst Mahmud al-Tahir. 

“Turkey has interests in abetting the Muslim Brotherhood and giving it more power on the Yemeni stage.” 

Founded in 1990, the Reform Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s local branch, has played an important role on the country’s political scene. The party has gained more power in recent years, filling a political vacuum left by the downfall of the Ali Abdullah Saleh regime in February 2012 and then by a coup staged by the Iran-backed Houthi militia against Hadi in March 2015.

The party is represented in the government of Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, which is based in the south-eastern port city of Aden.

Brotherhood-affiliated officials and ministers have taken trips to Ankara to lobby officials with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) to be more active in Yemen, particularly by investing in the country’s transport sectors and ports. In mid-January, Turkey’s deputy interior minister, Ismail Catakli, visited Aden and held talks with Saeed. He revealed that Erdogan had asked a team of aides to prepare a report about humanitarian needs in Yemen. 

This came two months after former Yemeni Transport Minister Saleh al-Jabwani, a Reform Party affiliate, visited Turkey to discuss cooperation in managing Yemeni ports.

 Turkey’s efforts to increase their presence near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, through which Gulf oil is transported before reaching the Suez Canal, will threaten the security of Gulf Arab states.

Turkey’s efforts to increase its presence near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait are part of a larger campaign to shore up influence in the southern entrance of the Red Sea.

With a military base in Djibouti and repeated efforts to gain a foothold in Somalia and the Sudanese Red Sea island of Suakin, Ankara is working hard to become a force in the Red Sea.