SECSTATE Antony Blinken Turns the Other Cheek and America gets Slapped

Sec State Antony Blinken in February  0f this year took the Houthies ( sometimes called the Ansarallah) off the terrorist list  and two days after this move the same State Department became “deeply troubled” by the attacks on Saudi  Arabia  launched by the same organization .  In fact the Houthies were so grateful to the Biden administration  for taking them off the terrorist list that this week they invaded the US embassy and took a number of local staff as captives.

Me in center with white collared shirt posing with South Yemeni students 1989


So who are the Houthies? Basically they are the people of the mountainous northern part of Yemen. The name comes from the dominant Houthi tribe that have been in opposition to the Yemeni “government” for decades with intermittent periods of peace. They are  Zai’idi  Shi’a, sometimes called the “fivers,” because they believe that the last Imam was Zaid Ibn Ali, grandson of Husayn Ibn Ali and son of the fourth Imam Ali Ibn Husain. The majority of the Shi’a in Iraq and Iran are called twelvers because they believe in the last Imam (the twelfth), Imam Al-Mahdi who lives in occultation and will return as the promised Mahdi. The twelvers constitute about 90% of all Shias world -wide. The Zaidis are about 25% of the Yemen population. The rest are Sunni of the Shafei school.

Saudis firing in support of the Hadi government. Pretty much a lost cause.

Intasar Hammadi, Yemen actress and model arrested by Houthies for whatever comes to mind.

First off to understand the situation one has to remember that the State of Yemen  has been  divided  the past 174 years- with the exception of a few years of unhappy  shotgun marriage –  into south and north entities. There have been innumerable coups, revolts, and two serious civil wars, presidential assassinations.ongoing tribal wars, primarily in the north. The British landed there in Aden in  1893 and  did not give it up-under fire- until 1967. Today Yemen is “officially” united under President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.  While the temporary capitol is in Aden, he hangs out in Saudi where he feels much safer.

Mansur Hadi President of the Yemen that does not exist exist except in minds of Western diplomats. His temporary capitol is in Aden and he lives in Saudi Arabia.

The current situation is as shown on this map.  To explain further ; the Western “internationally recognized” Al Hadi government  controls the white area, The green area is controlled by the STC, group,a rebel group backed by the UAE, the brown by the Iranian supported Houthies, and parts of the Hadramaut are loosely controlled by various Islamist groups, Jihadis, E.G. Al Qaeda and the ISIS. In fact the Hadramaut was one of the early recruiting centers for Bin Laden and al Qaeda.

The so called government of the Hadi regime governs very little mostly desert

The Middle East “experts” always assumed that the interminable wars in Yemen were a result of political, ideological and tribal disputes, not religion.  They  wrote that  the fivers were the closest to the “mainstream” Sunni beliefs and thus disputes between the shi’a and Sunni were unlikely. Western analysts are always disinclined to attribute any violence to religious motives. It makes them uncomfortable.

However with the “resurgence of Islam,” which was in fact a Sunni resurgence of the more conservative and radical movements in Islam, Shi’a were seen as apostates. This drove the Shi’a in many parts of the Middle East to become more militant as a counter-reaction. So one can say that the forever war in Yemen does include ideology, politics, and  tribalism but also religion.

there million Yemenis are internally displaced more than 10% of total population.

The Islamic Shi’a regime of Iran  has made itself the savior of Shi’ism all over the world, including  the Houthi faction in the Yemeni civil war.   Western diplomats  frequently use the term “alleged ” supporter of the Houthies, which is convenient to avoid doing anything to annoy the Iranians in the pursuit  of the hopefully reconstituted JCPOA ( the Nuclear agreement).  This Iranian support of the Houthies is part of the  Iranian quest for a Neo-Persian empire as evidenced in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq (The Fertile Crescent).  In this quest they concentrate on the Shi’a ( or groups Shi’a  related like the Alawis of Syria), and in some cases, Sunni entities that fit their plan , such as the Hamas of Gaza.

Yemen was one of the oldest centers of civilization in the Near East. Between the 12th century BC and the 6th century AD, it was part of the Minaean, Sabaean, and Himyarite kingdoms, which controlled the lucrative spice trade, and later came under Ethiopian and Persian rule. In the 7th century, Islamic caliphs began to exert control over the area. After this caliphate broke up, the former north Yemen came under control of Imams of various dynasties usually of the Zaidi sect, who established a theocratic political structure that survived until modern times. (Imam is a religious term. The Shi’ites apply it to the prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law Ali, his sons Hassan and Hussein, and subsequent lineal descendants, whom they consider to have been divinely ordained unclassified successors of the prophet.)

Egyptian Sunni caliphs occupied much of north Yemen throughout the 11th century. By the 16th century and again in the 19th century, north Yemen was part of the Ottoman Empire, and in some periods its Imams exerted control over south Yemen.

starvation in Yemen



Former North Yemen
Ottoman control was largely confined to cities with the Imam’s suzerainty over tribal areas formally recognized. Turkish forces withdrew in 1918, and Imam Yahya strengthened his control over north Yemen. Yemen became a member of the Arab league in 1945 and the United Nations in 1947.

Imam Yahya died during an unsuccessful coup attempt in 1948 and was succeeded by his son Ahmad, who ruled until his death in September 1962. Imam Ahmad’s reign was marked by growing repression, renewed friction with the United Kingdom over the British presence in the south, and growing pressures to support the Arab nationalist objectives of Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser.  Shortly after assuming power in 1962, Ahmad’s son, Badr, was deposed by revolutionary forces, which took control of Sanaa and created the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR). The only included North Yemen as the Brtissh still controlled Aden and the Hadramut

The revolt  ( actually it was more of a coup d etat by the Army)  against the Imam and with Egyptian support installed Colonel Abdul al-Sallah as the new president. In fact Nasser with his Arab world  imperial aspirations  sent over 50,000 troops to Yemen to fight the Royalists as the Imam’s  supporters were called. The Zai’dies  constituted  the bulk  of the  royalists and  were supported by Saudi Arabia as the war by proxy between Egypt and Saudi Arabia heated up. The Egyptian  adventurism was a disaster for Egypt – often called Egypt’s Vietnam. The Egyptian peasant soldiers were lost in the very forbidding topography and culture of Yemen.  The royalists fought an insurgent type war against the Egyptian conventional forces.  See Edgar O’Ballance  The War in the Yemen.


An Arabic language instructor I had in Washington had served as an army psychiatrist with the  troops in Yemen and told me there were large numbers of Egyptian troops who could not cope with climate and mountains, and were sent home. Conflict continued periodically until 1967 when Egyptian troops were withdrawn. By 1968, following a final royalist siege of Sanaa, most of the opposing leaders reconciled; Saudi Arabia recognized the Republic in 1970. In 1990 the the  Yemen Arab Republic was formalized which, united north and South Yemen, however it was never and still is not a peaceful reunion.

Former South Yemen( A good book on this Tom Little ; South Arabia : Arena of Conflict)
British influence increased in the south and eastern portion of Yemen after the British captured the port of Aden in 1839. It was ruled as part of British India until 1937, when Aden was made a crown colony with the remaining land designated as east Aden and west Aden protectorates. By 1965, most of the tribal states within the protectorates and the Aden colony proper had joined to form the British-sponsored federation of south Arabia.

In 1965, two rival nationalist groups–the Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY) and the National Liberation Front (NLF)–turned to terrorism in their struggle to control the country. In 1967, in the face of uncontrollable violence, British troops began withdrawing, federation rule collapsed, and NLF elements took control after eliminating their FLOSY rivals. South Arabia, including Aden, was declared independent on November 30, 1967, and was renamed the People’s Republic of South Yemen. In June 1969, a radical wing of the Marxist NLF gained power and changed the country’s name on December 1, 1970, to the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY). In the PDRY, all political parties were amalgamated into the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP), which became the only legal party. The PDRY established close ties with the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and radical Palestinians. see Glen Balfour Paul  The End of the Empire in the Middle East;

Republic of Yemen ( United Yemen)
In 1972, the governments of the PDRY and the YAR declared that they approved a future union. However, little progress was made toward unification, and relations were often strained. In 1979, simmering tensions led to fighting, which was only resolved after Arab League mediation. The northern and southern heads of state reaffirmed the goal of unity during a summit meeting in Kuwait in March 1979. However, that same year the PDRY began sponsoring an insurgency against the YAR. In April 1980, PDRY President Abdul Fattah Ismail resigned and went into exile. His successor, Ali Nasir Muhammad, took a less interventionist stance toward both the YAR and neighboring Oman. On January 13, 1986, a violent struggle began in Aden between Ali Nasir Muhammad and the returned Abdul Fattah Ismail and their supporters. Fighting lasted for more than a month and resulted in thousands of casualties, Ali Nasir’s ouster, and Ismail’s death. Some 60,000 persons, including Ali Nasir and his supporters, fled to the YAR. ( North Yemen)

In May 1988, the YAR and PDRY governments came to an understanding that considerably reduced tensions including agreement to renew discussions concerning unification, to establish a joint oil exploration area along their undefined border, to demilitarize the border, and to allow Yemenis unrestricted border passage on the basis of only a national identification card. Basically however the north and south  Yemen were culturally far  apart. Aden had for 174 years  been a British possession and in the 20th century the  city was very  cosmopolitan and with a number of non Arab residents, including a large Indian population and 5000 Europeans.

In November 1989, the leaders of the YAR (Ali Abdullah Saleh) and the PDRY (Ali Salim Al-Bidh) agreed on a draft unity constitution originally drawn up in 1981. The Republic of Yemen (ROY) was declared on May 22, 1990. Ali Abdullah Saleh became President, and Ali Salim Al-Bidh became Vice President. Despite this, clashes intensified until civil war broke out in early May 1994. The war began when an Northern   armored brigade  and an a southern  armored brigade. on one another in a military motor pool.

Almost all of the actual fighting in the 1994 civil war occurred in the southern part of the country despite air and missile attacks against cities and major installations in the north. Southerners sought support from neighboring states and received billions of dollars of equipment and financial assistance. The United States strongly supported Yemeni unity, but repeatedly called for a cease-fire and a return to the negotiating table. Various attempts, including by a UN special envoy, were unsuccessful in bringing about a cease-fire.

Houthie execution of prisoners…of whomever is considered to be an enemy of the Houhties on that particular day

Southern leaders declared secession and the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Yemen (DRY) on May 21, 1994, but the DRY was not recognized by the international community. Ali Nasir Muhammad supporters greatly assisted military operations against the secessionists and Aden was captured on July 7, 1994. Other resistance quickly collapsed and thousands of southern leaders and military went into exile.

The Importance of Yemen

Yemen sits astride the babel Mandeb which is the  gateway to the Suez Canal . It is a relatively narrow entrance and exit from Asia to Europe. It can w easily be closed or made so dangerous that oil transport companies cannot pay the insurance. The Sumed pipeline which runs from Egypt to the Mediterranean  is not an alternative because the tankers must still use the Bab el Mandeb passage.

Only About 10% of oil being shipped goes through Canal. Seems not a problem? wait to see what happens at the gas station when that happens!!!

Sumed pipeline Not an alternative to the canal.

The second reason Yemen is Important is also related to oil. The Houthies  now have a considerable inventory of long range drones and the expertise to use them…thanks to their Iranian instructors. In September 2019 the Houthies  launched  number of attacks on the ARAMCO oil systems in the Saudi Arabia on the Persian Gulf as a not so gentle reminder  of their capabilities– a signal from Iran to the Persian Gulf Arab oil producers. They have the capabilities to devastate the world oil market. In so far as the US is concerned with the Biden Administration hell bent on reducing oil  and coal supplies, with the  fanciful chimera of electrical power, we will be in  deep cloaca.

Iran Ian-Houthie attack on then Saudi oil fav cities in September 2019. There was no response by the US or Saudi Arabia.

Thirdly as we are now finding out Yemen is the perfect breeding ground  for terrorism. Extreme climate, terrain , remote, hostile to foreigners, and devoid of a natural environment to support invaders.

USS Cole suicide attack in 2000 by AQI

Fourthly Yemen is the most  needy country in the world in humanitarian needs. Ridden with corruption, tribal and sectarian warfare, 80% of the population requires humanitarian aid. Food, water, medical care, infrastructure, all  are urgently needed and little is arriving. Ninety percent of the food must be imported.  Ironically ninety percent  of the inadequate and diminishing water supply is used for agriculture which is primarily used to grow Qat.. a “mild” narcotic planet  which Yemenis spend hours chewing every day. It is a sort  of a stimulant which produces excitement, loss of appetite, and c short-lived euphoria. Coming down from their high the Yemenis become irritable and unapproachable .  At least that was my experience in my two trips to Yemen.

Qat party. they drink lots of strong coffee and smoke the watere pipes for hours, then go home and sleep it off.


Oh yes. We haven’t forgotten the local employees of the American Embassy languishing in Yemeni dungeons. The State department is “negotiating” for their release.

AQI attack on Aden

Forget about any military incursion. We should have  learned from  the French in Vietnam,  the British in Iraq, the Russians in Afghanistan, and the Egyptians in Yemen, as well the rescue of the American hostages in Iran. This happens when our enemies see us as weak.


About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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