US ambassador’s visit to Al Mahra alarms anti-coalition forces

Christopher Hanzel’s visit to Al Mahra comes as the announcement of the new Yemeni government, planned for last week, continues to be delayed.
Wednesday 02/12/2020
US Ambassador to Yemen Christopher Henzel  visits Yemen’s far eastern governorate of Al Mahra. (TAW)
US Ambassador to Yemen Christopher Henzel visits Yemen’s far eastern governorate of Al Mahra. (TAW)

ADEN – The visit of US Ambassador to Yemen Christopher Henzel to Yemen’s far eastern governorate of Al Mahra drew concerns from the Qatar-backed camp in the Yemeni government and some Iran-backed forces.

These parties were concerned about the message the US visit could send to those working to increase Turkish and Iranian activity in the country.

The US ambassador’s visit to Al Mahra comes as the announcement of the new Yemeni government, planned for last week, continues to be delayed.

The new government’s announcement, planned as part of the Riyadh Agreement, was postponed due to Al Islah party and elements of the Qatar-backed political camp’s insistence on obtaining sovereign portfolios in the ministries of interior, foreign affairs, defence and finance, which Saudi Arabia rejected.

Soon after Henzel landed in Yemen, media outlets backed by Qatar and Iran discussed the surprise visit and presented it as a violation of Yemeni sovereignty.

Badr Kalashat, a member of Al Islah party, wrote on Twitter about the visit: “Today, the US ambassador to Yemen visited the American and British forces present at Al-Ghaydah airport in Al-Mahra. They rule while we applaud and celebrate independence days. ”

Political sources in Yemen said the anti-Arab coalition movement’s concern is due to fears that Washington and the international community may adopt the Arab coalition’s narrative about arms smuggling in Yemen.

According to the Saudi-led Arab coalition, Iran and Qatar-backed elements within the Yemeni government have used Al Mahra as a corridor to smuggle weapons to Houthi militias, including parts used to develop ballistic missiles and drones that target energy platforms and maritime routes in the Red Sea.

In recent years, Al Mahra has become a hub for Qatari, Iranian and Turkish activities in Yemen.

An Iranian-backed Southern Movement faction, led by Hassan Baum, has been active there. According to media reports, arms smuggling operations have also flourished in Al Mahra, with the aim of providing Houthi militias with much-needed military equipment.

Also in Al Mahra, armed recruitment activities, funded by Qataris, have reportedly increased, under the supervision of tribal leaders, headed by former Governor Ali Salem al-Huraizy who leads anti-coalition activities in the governorate.

The Yemeni government’s presence is symbolic in Al Mahra, while the presence of coalition forces is limited to some crossings used to smuggle weapons.

The government and coalition forces in the governorate are often provoked by Qatar-backed armed groups that effectively control the area and are attempting to expand their presence to run smuggling routes.

These Qatar-backed groups are reportedly vital for illicit operations to transfer weapons and equipment to Houthis and secure the passage of Turkish officers and Islamist leaders that move between Yemen and Oman before travelling to other countries.

— Escalation —

According to informed political sources, the US ambassador’s visit confirms the concerns of the Arab coalition over the increase in hostile activities and sends a message that could threaten the agenda of Iran, Turkey and Qatar in Yemen.

Informed Yemeni sources confirmed to The Arab Weekly that the Islamist-dominated Crisis Cell, which recently managed the file of dismantling and penetrating Saada fronts nearly two years ago, recently took over the file of the Western Coast.

This cell, which features Islamist leaders and Qatari, Iranian and Turkish liaison officers, has been working to dismantle military obstacles that threaten the Houthis’ expansion project or pose a threat to it, as was the case on the Saada fronts that the cell succeeded in dismantling, including by infiltrating them by sending in Muslim Brotherhood elements and recruiting military leaders there to stir confusion and create disorder.

The sources indicated that the task of targeting the joint forces in Yemen’s western coast was entrusted to the Muslim Brotherhood branch in Taiz and Brotherhood leader Hammoud al-Mikhlafi, who leads thousands of militants recently recruited with Qatari money, the bulk of whom were included in the Yemeni National Army units or special brigades established for them.

The sources said the kidnapping of Brigadier General Qaid Al-Ward, commander of the Third Brigade of the Republican Guards in Al-Turbah, south of Taiz, by armed Brotherhood members, was an attempt to lure Brigadier General Tariq Saleh into an imminent confrontation with the ”Popular Mobilisation” forces.

This escalation coincided with reports of an increase in Brotherhood activity on the western coast, with Qatar-funded elements appointed in areas controlled by joint forces, secret agents deployed, assassination cells created and efforts ramped up to drive a wedge between the joint forces.

Some of the factions’ leaders loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood provoked armed clashes with Tariq Saleh’s forces, especially in the coastal Khokha, while the Muslim Brotherhood in Taiz spoke out against the “joint resistance” forces’ presence in the city of Mokha, which is affiliated with a conservative administration in Taiz.

The administration in Taiz was dominated by Islamists loyal to Qatar and Turkey after they tightened their grip on the governorate following the assassination of the commander of the 35th Armoured Brigade, Brigadier General Adnan Al-Hammadi, and the establishment of a new leadership for the remnants of the brigade from the Muslim Brotherhood’s loyalists.

Yemeni sources indicate that the policy pursued by the media of the joint forces, which urges rapprochement with Al Islah, was unsuccessful given the history of previous alliances between the party and other Yemeni components, which ended poorly, such as the case of the late former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Hammadi.

Tariq Saleh, the nephew of the former president, is aligned against the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen, which views him as a threat to the group’s project to reach Yemen’s western coast.

Tariq Saleh is also viewed as an extension of the project of his late uncle, who gave up power in 2011 as a result of protests led by Al Islah.

Hammadi, on the other hand, belonged ideologically to the Nasserist party, which allied with Al Islah during the overthrow of the late president. The alliance of course ended with Hammadi’s assassination, which was later blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood’s branch in Taiz.

The escalation in the western coast and Al-Mahra coincides with renewed confrontations on the fronts of Abyan governorate (east of Aden). Yemeni political sources confirm that a regional party hostile to the Arab coalition is behind this and is seeking to thwart the formation of the Yemeni government, which has stalled due to Al Islah’s refusal to announce a new government before implementing the military part of the Riyadh Agreement.

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the Arab coalition is now considering a list of options to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood’s escalation and blackmail practiced by some influential leaders within the government.

The same sources noted that the coalition had warned that it would be unacceptable to submit to the schemes of the Qatar-backed camp within the government. The coalition also said it wouldreview its policies if Islamist elements continue to refuse to implement the Riyadh Agreement and obstruct the formation of the government.