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de la Facultad de Ciencias Jurídicas y Políticas de la Universidad del Zulia
Maracaibo, Venezuela
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Vol.39 N° 69
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Vol. 39, Nº 69 (Julio - Diciembre) 2021, 717-734
IEPDP-Facultad de Ciencias Jurídicas y Políticas - LUZ
Recibido el 26/01/2021 Aceptado el 12/05/2021
Yemen Crisis after 2015:
The Attitudes of Saudi Arabia
and the United Arab Emirates
Seyedmohammad Seyedi Asl *
Hazar Leylanoğlu **
Ataollah Bahremani ***
Shalaleh Zabardastalamdari ****
In this study, using the descriptive-analytical method, we
discuss the main factors in the formation of the Yemen crisis, as well
as the attitudes of the two Arab states and of the two neighboring
countries, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, in the
Yemen crisis. It is concluded that this crisis stems not only from
the role of local actors, but also from the role of regional and
global actors, who played a decisive role in shaping and exacerbating the
Yemen crisis. Regional players in the post-2015 crisis include the United
Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which showed contradictory behavior.
Saudi Arabia’s targets in its attack on Yemen have a greater military and
security dimension. The political and economic objectives of the United
Arab Emirates, which is Riyadh’s most important ally in this war, have
been at a dierent level from those of Saudi Arabia. This can be seen in
Abu Dubai Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed’s aspirations to expand his
country’s inuence, to become a major player in the region.
Keyword: conicts in the Middle East; Saudi Arabia; United Arab
Emirates; crisis in Yemen; geopolitical analysis.
* Dr., International Relations, Ankara Hacı Bayram University. ORCID ID:
0001-5237-7385. Email:
** Dr., International Relations, Ankara Hacı Bayram University. ORCID ID:
0002-1699-2820. Email:
*** Ankara University, Faculty of Language History and Geography. ORCID ID:
0002-6399-6031. Email:
**** Ph.d Candidate in International Relations, Ankara Hacı Bayram University. ORCID ID: https://orcid.
org/0000-0001-6757-3338. Email:
Seyedmohammad Seyedi Asl, Hazar Leylanoğlu, Ataollah Bahremani y Shalaleh
Yemen Crisis after 2015: The Attitudes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
Crisis de Yemen después de 2015: las actitudes de
Arabia Saudita y los Emiratos Árabes Unidos
En este estudio, utilizando el método descriptivo-analítico, se discuten
los principales factores en la formación de la crisis de Yemen, así como las
Actitudes de los dos estados árabes y también de los dos países vecinos,
Arabia Saudita y Emiratos Árabes Unidos, en la crisis de Yemen. Se concluye
que esta crisis se deriva no solo del papel de los actores locales, sino también
del papel de actores regionales y globales, que jugaron un papel decisivo
en la conguración y exacerbación de la crisis de Yemen. Entre los actores
regionales de la crisis después de 2015 se encuentran los Emiratos Árabes
Unidos y Arabia Saudita, que mostraron un comportamiento contradictorio.
Los objetivos de Arabia Saudita en su ataque a Yemen tienen una mayor
dimensión militar y de seguridad. Los objetivos políticos y económicos
de los Emiratos Árabes Unidos, que es el aliado más importante de Riad
en esta guerra, han estado a un nivel diferente de los de Arabia Saudita.
Esto se puede ver en las aspiraciones del príncipe heredero de Abu Dubai,
Mohammed bin Zayed, de expandir la inuencia de su país, para convertirse
en un actor importante en la región.
Palabras clave: conictos en Medio Oriente; Arabia Saudita; Emiratos
Árabes Unidos; crisis en Yemen; análisis geopolítico.
The Republic of Yemen faces a variety of political challenges that
consistently endanger unity and stability of the country. Its political
landscape is deeply divided between tribal confederations, Islamist
movements, and economic and military interest groups. Former President
Ali Abdullah Salih skillfully applied a division and rule policy for most of
his administration. This policy involved patronage to incite the well-being
of individual tribes, or the eective manipulation of tribal traditions to turn
them against each other if necessary. Salih once described his management
style as: “dancing on the head of the snakes” (Berger et al., 2012: 2).
The Yemeni regime ruled the country with an iron st during its long
years of power (1978-2011), but the country was not devoid of political
opposition, which enjoyed a great reputation among the masses. This
opposition was represented by political parties gathered under the name of
“Joint Meeting Parties”. Although there were other opposition parties that
came to the point of arming against the regime; their goals, orientations and
visions were dierent. For example, it is seen that it is spread throughout the
Vol. 39 Nº 69 (Julio - Diciembre 2021): 717-734
country with the Houthis in the north and northwest, but in Al Qaeda, which
is active in the south and southwest. This undoubtedly demonstrated the
lack of aection for the southern opposition, the bloody events of 1994, the
Yemeni regime that used various methods to stop the southern movement,
as well as the southern opposition that aimed to revive the democratic and
popular Yemeni state that disappeared with the declaration of union with
the north in 1990. This incident had a negative eect on the relations of the
southerners with the regime. The Southern Movement does not hide the
opposition activities not only to the regime but also to the union (Nabeel,
Protests in Yemen began on January 15 2011, with a student
demonstration marching towards the Tunisian embassy to support the
Tunisian uprising. The demonstration called for cheers in support of
former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s departure from the government and
the Tunisian uprising. The actions lasted ve days, then stopped for two
days, and people took to the streets again. It seems that the overthrow of
the Zine El Abidine Ben Ali regime on January 14 encouraged the people of
Yemen to protest and demand Saleh’s departure. The measures taken by
the Yemeni government did not prevent the protesters from demonstration
on the streets, not even the government’s condemnations. While Saudi
Arabia and Iran are among the main foreign actors of the conict, there are
also Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Often they follow
their own strategic and security agenda, independent of conict. Each of
these countries supports at least one faction.
Iranian Houthis sponsor the Yemen government of Saudi Arabia, Qatar
Islah, and the UAE STC and Joint Forces. According to a 2018 report by
the UN Panel of Experts, forces loyal to the STC are trained and funded
by the UAE, but operating largely outside the Yemeni military command
and control structure, “undermining the authority of the legitimate
government.” Oman supports local tribes on the western border, and since
2016 trying to be an important mediator in the conict by bringing the
Houthis together with the Saudis (Palik and Jalal, 2020). By far the most
signicant conict area with Iran was in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and
the United Arab Emirates jointly intervened in the Iranian-backed Houthi
rebels since March 2015. For the Emirates, however, the goal of pushing
back Iran has always been secondary to the struggle. Islamists in the
(Sunni) Arab World: The Yemen war has repeatedly highlighted dierences
of opinion between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, with the UAE nally breaking
up and withdrawing from its union in July 2019 (Steinberg, 2020).
Seyedmohammad Seyedi Asl, Hazar Leylanoğlu, Ataollah Bahremani y Shalaleh
Yemen Crisis after 2015: The Attitudes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
1. Yemen
Yemen is a country divided into north and south for centuries. The
northern part has mountainous and impassable areas and the southern
part has a at area. This made northern Yemen less vulnerable from the
start due to its mountainous and impenetrable terrain. Especially since the
rule of the Zaydi Imams in this region was established in 818, its cultural
and social context has been relatively stable and has been shaped dierently
from the rest of the country. Rather, it is a hilly area of the southern part
and little natural because it faces the Strait of Bab al-Mendep on the shores
of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
It has been inuenced by dierent cultures and communications and
has always been attacked by dierent governments. As example, before
Islam, the Romans and later the Ismailis, the Ayyubids and nally England
dominated the region, especially the port of Eden (Nourmohammadi et al.,
2013). While the coastal regions of the country, especially in the south, were
under the rule of the British, the northern regions dominated by Zaydis
remained under the control of Imam Yahya. Imam Yahya continued to
manage the bureaucracy with them by not sending the Ottoman ocials
who stayed in Yemen.
In this period, although the principles of the Zeydi sect were the dominant
in social life, the administrative mechanism operated in the way that the
Turks established. The country, which was ocially accepted as Ottoman
land until 1923, continued to be dominated by Turkish bureaucrats until
1926 (Yıldırım, 2015). When Imam Yahya was assassinated in the uprising
in 1948, his son Imam Ahmet took over. Ahmed suppressed the uprising
in a very bloody way with the help of Saudi Arabia and ruled the country
until 1962, neutralizing his rivals who announced that they would end
the feudal regime in Northern Yemen (Arslan, 2015). The Arab Republic
of Yemen, established after the overthrow of Ahmet in 1962, received a
nationalist VIEW during successive civil and military regimes. There were
social inequalities in the social and mostly tribal structure in Yemen and the
expulsion of some groups.
The uneven distribution of government resources has corrupted the
Yemeni government, known as the government of thieves, who had serious
political and economic problems. The existence of dierent tribes and
numerous denominational and religious divisions practically transformed
Yemen into a fragmented society (Amiri and kyani, 2017). In the northern
part of Yemen where Zaydi Imams were dominant, clashes took place
between the supporters of the Republican Jamal Abdul Nasser and the
supporters of the Imam government, known as the monarchists. Finally,
in 1962, the Republicans triumphed and led to the formation of the Yemen
Arab Republic in the north (Mokhtari and Shams, 2017).
Vol. 39 Nº 69 (Julio - Diciembre 2021): 717-734
Although the negotiations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia started as of
1964, the fact that they did not get any results before the 1967 War created
a great weakness for the Arab states. Negotiations between the two states
accelerated after the 1967 War and withdrew Egyptian troops, while Saudi
Arabia agreed not to help the royalists. However, the real determinant was
a development within Yemen. In Yemen, where there was a wide opposition
in the society as well as the internal party opposition, Sallal was removed
from power in a coup on 5 November 1967, less than a week after Egypt
withdrew its troops (Arı, 2012).
At the same time, the predominantly Sunni southern region of Yemen
gained its independence under the name of the People’s Democratic
Republic of South Yemen, which was taken over by a Soviet-backed Marxist
government. After this move in Yemen conicts upraised from 1971 to 1972.
With the passage of time and rapid political developments in both northern
and southern Yemen, the rst summit for the unication of the two countries
was held in August 1983. In November 1988, the two countries signed an
agreement to unite the two countries. Finally, on May 22, 1990, with the
approval of the deputies, the two countries united to form the Republic of
Yemen (Fozi, 2012).
The United Republic of Yemen, which was founded in 1990 with the
unication of North and South Yemen, was ruled by Ali Abdullah Salih
until 2011. In addition to the 2004 conict, there were six wars between
the Yemeni government and the Houthis between 2005 and 2009. One
of the most important of these conicts was the 2007 war, in which the
government and the Houthi signed a ceasere under the mediation of
Qatar. This treaty was violated a few months later and led to the Fourth
War. Another important war was the 2009 war in which the USA, Jordan
and Saudi Arabia also intervened (Dehshiri and Hosseini, 2017).
In late 2010 and early 2011, President Salih was enjoying an
overwhelming vision of political domination. He portrayed himself
successfully while hosting the GCC Cup football tournament in Aden in
December 2010 as proof that his control over the South was undisputable.
In the Far North, Salih was convinced that he had overcome the Houthi
threat and that the stagnation in the war would continue. However, Salih’s
sense of trust turned out to be unfounded. When the streets exploded in
February 2011, the government was taken by surprise (Feierstein, 2019).
The protests have been seen to be organized and led by a coalition of Yemeni
opposition parties (Joint Meeting Parties or JMP). Salih was forced to make
various economic concessions and political promises, but his moves failed
to appease the protests. Numerous casualties were reported as the security
forces’ reaction to the protests was heavy (Arraf, 2017).
After the popular uprisings that swept the Arab world in 2011, including
Yemen, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) mediated a transition plan for
Seyedmohammad Seyedi Asl, Hazar Leylanoğlu, Ataollah Bahremani y Shalaleh
Yemen Crisis after 2015: The Attitudes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
Yemen. As part of Yemen’s long-standing former President Ali Abdullah
Saleh’s transition to President Hadi, all of Yemen’s various political groups
(565 individual delegates) attended the National Dialogue Conference
(NDC). ) It was launched in 2013-2014. This conference aimed to resolve all
of Yemen’s prominent political issues, including addressing calls for greater
autonomy in the south (Sharp, 2019).
Despite the dierences, the NDC managed to agree on fundamental
principles to continue the transition process, including extending Hadi’s
term for another year. The crucial point of contention in this context was
the future federal structure of the state. A commission specically tasked
with nding a compromise suggested dividing Yemen into six main regions.
However, both the Houthis and the southern separatist movement rejected
this proposal. Military conicts escalated some problems such as the future
constitution and power-sharing arrangements remained unresolved. The
Houthi movement, which previously operated only locally in the far north,
managed to expand its area of control afterwards. In a tactical alliance
between Saleh’s supporters and the security forces, they managed to defeat
their main rival in the north and in September 2014 became the de facto
rulers of the capital Sana’a (Popp, 2015).
Four main streams in Yemen actively play a political role in the
developments of Yemen;
1. Congress movement is attributed to former President Ali Abdullah
2. The Wahhabi-leaning Reform Party, also supported by Saudi Arabia;
3. South Stream covers most of Yemen. Which has three approaches of
independence, pro-federalism and minimalism
4. The Zaydis and Houthis in various parts of the country, especially
in the Saada region, are said to make up about 40 percent of the
population of Yemen (Eltyaminia et al., 2017).
2. Yemen: Saudi Arabia
The importance of Saudi Arabia in terms of Yemen policy stems
from the dierent geopolitical situation which is beyond geography and
neighborhood values. It is one of the most important vital and safe areas that
cannot be ignored or neglected. Every time this country became an arena
for regional competition, Saudi Arabia drew direct military intervention in
Yemen with aim to prevent rival countries in the region from falling into the
hands (Symposium Report, 2015).
Vol. 39 Nº 69 (Julio - Diciembre 2021): 717-734
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is particularly aware of Saudi Arabia’s
sensitivity towards its leadership role in the region with respect to Yemen,
even one analyst observed that Saudi Arabia has not changed since the
1930s. This does not mean that the UAE is indierent to its neighbor’s
problems. The UAE federal government has consistently pledged large
amounts of development assistance to Yemen but acknowledged signicant
problems in paying such aid due to corruption and other issues (Burke,
“Keep Yemen weak” is a phrase that King Abdul-Aziz allegedly
recommended to his sons on his deathbed in 1953 (Stenslie, 2013). Since
the establishment of Saudi Arabia in 1932, it has clashed with Yemen on
political, border and ideological issues, and this conict led to the 1934 war
and the victory of Ibn Saud. In the 23-point Taif Treaty, King Abdulaziz
included the disputed territories (Najran, Jizan and Asar) in addition to
bringing war compensation to Imam Yahya. However, there was an article
in the agreement extending the agreement for twenty years. Successive
Yemeni governments, after signing this treaty, did not formally see this as
the basis for resolving territorial disputes with Saudi Arabia and insisted
on the right of appeal. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia has always tried
to win the Yemen agreement to nalize this agreement and determine the
borders of the two countries accordingly, but this agreement did not end
the territorial dispute (Ahmadi and Khosravi, 2017).
In the 1970s, the Saudis used their economic strength and contacts with
prominent Yemeni politicians to disband the Yemen Alliance and prevent
the expansion of the former Soviet-backed South Yemen government. Part
of this link was in the form of monthly salaries to statesmen and tribes.
Indeed, during these two decades the biggest threat to the Saudis in general
and to Yemen in particular has been leftist groups. Saudi Arabia has directly
and simultaneously supported the Yemeni government and its military and
political leaders to counter this threat (Sardar and Mousavi, 2015).
Conservative Saudi Arabia, fearing President Salih’s support for Saddam
Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War, reversed its historical support for the
North and intervened on behalf of the secular socialist South. President
Salih described the civil war as a struggle between Islam and atheist
socialism, a measure aimed at reviving the Yemeni Islamists and recruiting
veterans who recently returned from the Soviet-Afghan war. “The aim
was to bring together Arab nationalist, Islamist and socialist actors, each
with dierent ideologies, dierent goals, and dierent perspectives on the
conict in which they were involved” (Swift, 2012: 3).
With the signing of the Jeddah Border Agreement between the two
countries in 2000, which was based on the acceptance of the Taif Agreement,
the long-standing dispute and demarcation of the borders between the
two parties on disputed areas came to an end. Relations between the two
Seyedmohammad Seyedi Asl, Hazar Leylanoğlu, Ataollah Bahremani y Shalaleh
Yemen Crisis after 2015: The Attitudes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
countries have shifted from conict to constructive engagement to improve
the security situation in border areas (Hemati and Ebrahimi, 2018).
In early November 2009, Saudi Arabia entered into military operations
against the Houthis. The action came after constant rumors about covert
Saudi military operations at the border against Houthi rebels. The Saudi
attack came after the Houthi attacks on Saudi soil that killed several Saudi
border guards. In the days before the Saudi attack, the Yemeni army was
allowed to cross Saudi territory to encircle the Houthi rebel positions
(Boucek, 2010).
The Houthis’ signicant inuence in Yemen has raised concerns in its
northern neighbors, which share the 1,400-kilometer border. According
to some experts, the Yemen issue is basically not a foreign issue for Saudi
Arabia; this is a matter of national security for the Saudis. Therefore, on
March 16, 2015, Saudi Arabia launched an air strike against Ansarullah in
Yemen, claiming to support President Hadid. In the operation called “The
Storm of Determination” and then “Return of Hope” in the rst month,
Qatar, Kuwait, UAE and Bahrain formed Saudi allies. Countries such as
Sudan, Morocco, Egypt, and Jordan cooperate with Riyadh on the delivery
of military weapons (Shahgholian and Jamali, 2017).
Saudi Arabia and the UAE were key elements in the Arab League that
intervened in 2015 to support the legitimate Yemeni government in Yemen.
Their main goal is to prevent the complete fall of President Hadi’s government
while not allowing the Houthi group, which overthrew the government in
September 2014, to expand its reach and consolidate its control throughout
the country. From the beginning, intervention by Saudi Arabia and the
UAE was considered necessary and not optional. In their view, they cannot
allow an ideological group such as the Houthis to occupy Yemen where it
could threaten the strategic interests of both countries (Blumberg, 2019).
From their point of view, they could not allow an ideological group like the
Houthis to take over Yemen, where it could threaten the strategic interests
of both countries. In this case, the Saudis launched a comprehensive war
against Yemen and announced the following three goals from this war:
1. To enable Hadid to return to that country legally.
2. Destruction of Houthi resources or facilities as rebel groups in Yemen.
3. Reducing Iran’s inuence (Amiri, 2019: 130).
In September 2016, the Houthi regime in Sana’a introduced a new
800 km ballistic missile called Burkan. Shortly after, such missiles were
launched in Taif, the summer capital of Saudi Arabia, and in Jeddah, the
kingdom’s largest port, 680 km from the border with Yemen. In February
2017, the Houthis introduced a longer-range missile called the Burkan 2,
which claimed to have a range of 1000 km (or 1400 km, according to one
Vol. 39 Nº 69 (Julio - Diciembre 2021): 717-734
source, but this seems highly unlikely). This newly acquired missile was
used in three attacks against targets near the Saudi capital Riyadh (Rubin,
Saudi-led forces launched an operation called Operation Golden Victory
against Houthi rebels for the liberation of Hudaydah in 2018. Due to its
strategic and geographical importance, many groups were struggling to
take control of the port city. The port city is of great importance in terms
of food and commercial supply, especially for the Houthis, who control the
northern parts. The port is also a sea control point for the Bab ul-Mendep
strait. The port also provides income for the Houthis, who collect taxes
on goods and import fuel from the port. In the given context, Operation
Golden Victory was seen as the most harmonious opportunity to change the
balance of power in Yemen (Al Dosari and George, 2020).
3. Yemen: UAE
The United Arab Emirates, which has political inuence in South
Yemen, imposes itself as one of the leading countries of the Arab coalition
in Yemen and an important actor in the eld. This issue has sparked a wide
debate, especially after President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi declared the
role of the UAE “stupid colonialism”. Between this statement and the role
of the UAE in Yemen, questions arise about the goals of Abu Dhabi where
wants to achieve through its military presence and political inuence. The
cities in Southern Yemen, which the UAE wants to control, contain natural
resources such as oil, gas, minerals and sh wealth, and Aden is one of the
most important Yemen coastal cities, containing important ports for the
UAE and aiming to expand its inuence over the strategic Bab al-Mandab
Strait (Arabi21, 2021).
In addition to the goals of the joint intervention of the coalition forces
led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE against Yemen, they have their own great
goals. Common motives with the countries of the Saudi-led coalition are:
to overthrow the coup, rebuild Yemen state institutions, ght the Houthis,
secure international shipping lines, and encircle Iran’s inuence. The
specic goals of the UAE in Yemen include economic, political and security
issues, each of which threatens its national security. Over the past three
decades, the UAE has emerged as an international hub for shipping and
has sought to maximize its economic relations with countries to stay at the
forefront of the countries of the region.
The United Arab Emirates sees the Bab al-Mandab corridor as a
natural extension of its national security that has developed at the expense
of weakening other corridors in the region. As result, it tried more than
once to get port management in Aden, but failed, except for a few rounds
Seyedmohammad Seyedi Asl, Hazar Leylanoğlu, Ataollah Bahremani y Shalaleh
Yemen Crisis after 2015: The Attitudes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
in November 2008 when former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh
agreed to sign what they called “port development”. With Saudi Arabia
declaring the formation of a “Decisive Storm” as a military alliance with the
participation of the UAE and other Gulf countries, the eyes of the UAE are
on Aden, and especially on the ports, to expand its inuence to restore and
control it and restore the victory of the British occupation. Therefore, even
after the US refused requested aid from American Special Forces, it was the
rst country to send military forces to Aden and to direct the amphibious
attack in the summer of 2015 (Al-Taher, 2017). Another economic goal is
to nd an alternative to the Strait of Hormuz by extending an oil pipeline
to the shores of the El Mahra Governorate in the Arabian Sea that could
export oil if the strait is closed by Iran. The UAE is working to consolidate
and sustain its inuence by inuencing decision-makers in Yemen to ensure
that its economic goals are achieved.
The leadership of the UAE regards what it sees as political, security
and existential threats in the medium term. The Arab Spring sees the
detachments as a threat to the regime. This is why the UAE tries to deal
with these results according to its vision and foreign policy. The UAE aims
to present its experience as a new model for the logistics state, whose
role in the regional arena goes beyond its geographic boundaries and
limited capabilities. To play a larger role, its economic partnership with
international powers, the deployment of military forces at bases outside
their borders, and the training and support of armed entities in these
countries dier in politics and security. The UAE has increased its military
weight and political cover with its air, naval and ground forces. Moreover,
military leaders who JOINED to him after his defeat in the 1994 war (from
the Southern Movement forces, some Sala groups and supporters of
former President Ali Abdullah Salih’s nephew Tarık Salih) He formed the
2nd major groups.
To facilitate his mission, he supported some groups of the Southern
Movement (separatist) in regional formations in the southern provinces.
He also supported the General People’s Congress Party, working for
the rebuilding of military forces under their leadership, loyal to former
President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was not subjected to the authority of
President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi government. The UAE’s policy of
expanding its inuence in Yemen depends on Saudi Arabia’s status and
employment of foreign aairs, as well as its relations with President Abd
Rabbu Mansour Hadi government. Additionally, the UAE put political
pressure on President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi during his acceptance and
support of international plans to end the presidency as part of its political
settlement eorts. On the other hand, the president of Yemen has managed
many times to get rid of what made him a target and tried to curb the
inuence of the UAE by removing some of his allies in the government.
Vol. 39 Nº 69 (Julio - Diciembre 2021): 717-734
Before 2011, the UAE had a relatively traditional relationship with the
Ali Abdullah Salih regime, which is seen as an ally, although it is not always
reliable. One of Zayed’s rst overseas initiatives was his project to rebuild
the Mareb dam in Yemen, which is said to be the ancestral home of the
Al-Nahyan. Salih came to power with the acceleration of the project in
1978. South Yemeni merchants, especially those from the eastern province
of Hadramawt, had long established business contacts in Dubai and Abu
Dhabi, and after the fall of the socialists in South Yemen in the 1960s, many
more southerners, who went to the emirates, took part in the trade with
the police and armies of the emirates. Since the early 2000s, the UAE has
become more involved in the debates on security sector reform in Yemen,
with the emergence of a new military and security elite gathered around
members of Saleh’s family (Salisbury, 2020).
Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the two strongest countries of the GCC
that feature the highest population numbers, the most extensive armies and
political clouds. In the past decade, they have worked together frequently
in political and military coalitions, especially since the Arab Spring protests
began in 2011. The two “accomplices” have joined forces in, Syria, Libya, and
Egypt, and the latest example is military cooperation against revolutionary
Houthi forces in Yemen (Van Slooten, 2019).
Since the start of the intervention, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have
agreed to share operational responsibilities. The Saudis would focus on the
northern border and air campaign with Saudi Arabia, and the UAE would
focus on land operations in the south. As the conict unfolded, the two allies
found themselves pursuing dierent strategies: Saudi Arabia prioritizes
federal but united Yemen, with its support of the renowned government
led by President Abdu Rabu Mansur Hadi and now moving from the
capital Sana to Aden. The UAE supports the unnecessary aspirations of
Unlike the Saudi-backed Islah party, the UAE cooperates mainly with
southern separatist groups (such as the STC) and pro-autonomous Salasts.
The UAE, the backbone of Islah, the Muslim Brotherhood of Yemen (MB) is
seen as a national threat to the UAE and is working to exclude them. Since
its founding in May 2017, the UAE-backed STC has banned all MB-related
movements and activities (Ardemagni, 2017). An important element of
the Yemen crisis is the separatist movement trying to re-establish an
independent regime in Aden. Since the reunication of Yemen in 1990,
there is a common narrative in southern Yemen of indigenous people
suering under the rule of the authorities in Sanaa. Many southern Yemenis
felt economically and politically marginalized by the northerners.
By 2007, the Southern Movement (al-Hirakal-Janoubi) was formed to
represent the South Yemeni struggle. The Southern Transitional Council
(STC) was formed 10 years later, at a time of civil war (Karasik and Caero,
Seyedmohammad Seyedi Asl, Hazar Leylanoğlu, Ataollah Bahremani y Shalaleh
Yemen Crisis after 2015: The Attitudes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
2019). This divergence was seen in the Taizz war, which UAE troops avoided
largely because of Islah’s reputation. The tension between the two emerged
when the UAE Foreign Minister, Anwar Gargash, tweeted in November that
“Taizz would have already been saved had it not been for al-Islah and the
Muslim Brotherhood not to act” (International Crisis Group, 2016).
In August 2019, the conicting agendas and conicting interests of the
Saudi-backed Yemeni government and UAE-backed ghters loyal to the
STC peaked. Violence between Hadi’s supporters and the armed separatists
broke out in Aden. The great tension between the Hadi-led government
and the STC ghters increased on 1 August 2019, when a ballistic missile
and drone targeted a parade in western Aden. The hit killed several people,
including Munir al-Yafei, also known as Abu al-Yafei, who served as a
commander of the Security Belt Force, a UAE-backed separatist and anti-
Islamist paramilitary group that encompasses multiple factions in southern
Yemen. This paramilitary faction received support from Abu Dhabi while
ghting the loyalists of Hadi, and the group operates under the umbrella of
STC (Karasik and Caero, 2019).
The UAE’s rationale for building a political base in South Yemen is
multifaceted. UAE’s participation in the Saudi-led coalition allowed the
Emirates to cooperate more openly with the United States in combating
terrorist groups such as AQAP in southern Yemen. It also allowed
Emirati forces to gain inuence in various Yemeni port cities that could
complement the UAE’s commercial and energy interests in the Red Sea
and the Gulf of Aden. From 2015 to 2019, the UAE made an impact in
Aden with its own troops or the presence of STC-aliated tribal militias
(known as the Southern Belt / Safety Belt or Al Hizam al Amni in Arabic)
The only personally loyal military force of President Hadi in Aden was the
Presidential Protection Force (under his son Nasser), which was relatively
small compared to the UAE allied forces. Periodic clashes occurred between
ROYG forces and the UAE-backed forces, and in January 2018 the STC took
control of most of the ROYG troops Aden in just three days.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia intervened to keep the STC committed to
the greater ght against the Houthis. After the conict settled, the STC
announced that it would continue to participate in the coalition’s military
operations against the Houthis and returned the military facilities to the
ROYG forces. However, it turned out that Hadi only had an Aden-based
government in name, and STC had power in the eld (Sharp, 2019: 6-7).
Hani ibni Berik, vice president of the South Yemen Provisional Assembly,
who is currently defending the separation, left Abdurabbu Mansur, while
he was a minister in the government of Hadi, leaving him to the side of the
separatists. It gained political and military ground by forming a militia unit
of 12 thousand people acting outside the control of the government of Hadi