The new timetable agreed on 9 January 2020 gives more details about the Saudi supported redeployment of forces throughout the South. It also states that it should be implemented within 20 days; limited progress was achieved and the murderous attack on the Presidential Guard forces (who were due to be deployed in Aden) in Marib on 19 January threatens all aspects of the Riyadh agreement. A missile killed more than 110 troops and civilians in a military camp mosque shortly after evening prayers. No one has claimed this attack, but the government has accused the Huthis who have themselves denied responsibility: accusing anyone else would openly jeopardise the Riyadh agreement and put its sponsors, the Saudi government, in a very difficult position.
The longer term fate of the Riyadh agreement will depend primarily on the willingness of the UAE decision makers to impose its acceptance on the STC and its militias, and force them to implement decisions taken on the ground by the Saudi forces and the Saudi-dominated implementation committees. Events in the first month of the year do not suggest this is happening. So 2020 is likely to be another year of uncertainty for southerners, particularly those residing in the various frontlines and in Aden. Regardless of claims to the contrary and loud assertions of infrastructure investments from the Saudi Reconstruction Fund, particularly promising constant electricity and water supplies, living conditions are unlikely to improve in the coming year. As the Saudis have taken over all aspects of the situation in Aden and beyond, they are left with an additional set of problems, at a time when they also would like to see a solution to the Yemen crisis.
A major development in 2019 has been a fundamental change in the Saudi strategy. This has resulted from a number of factors: abandonment of the Hodeida offensive, a series of Huthi incursions into Saudi Arabia leading to their capture of Saudi military personnel and equipment, Huthi launching of a number of more powerful missiles into Southwest Saudi Arabia. More controversially, successful missile attacks on the east-west pipeline in May and the attack by more than 20 missiles on major ARAMCO oil facilities, the country’s biggest economic asset, were both claimed by the Huthis, contrary to evidence indicating that Iran was directly responsible for these attacks.
The immediate outcome of the strikes on Aramco was to reveal the fundamental weakness of the Saudi-USA alliance under the Trump administration. Claiming deep friendship with the new Saudi regime, and in particular Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, President Trump was explicit about his real priorities. After publicly blaming his number one enemy, Iran, for the attack he then delayed taking any action in support of Saudi Arabia, making it clear that Saudi Arabia must look after itself: “That was an attack on Saudi Arabia, and that wasn’t an attack on us. But we would certainly help them.” And then added: “If we decide to do something, they’ll be very much involved, and that includes payment. And they understand that fully… I haven’t promised the Saudis that [US protection]…. We have to sit down with the Saudis and work something out.”
In plain translation: the US will not protect Saudi Arabia and will only help in exchange for cash, ie act as mercenaries. However, regardless of who was actually responsible for the Aramco attacks, they clearly led to a serious review of policy in Saudi Arabia.Print