Yemen’s Shiite rebels are not Iran proxies: US intelligence officials

YemenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
American intelligence officials have cautioned against the popular narrative that Yemen’s Shiite rebels are proxies or Iran, noting that Tehran actually counseled them against conquering Yemeni capital Sana’a last year. Known as Houthis, the group formally calls itself Ansar Allah (Supporters of God) and consists almost exclusively of Zaidi tribesmen, who follow an obscure form of Shia Islam. Their denomination, which distinguishes them from Yemen’s Sunni majority, shapes their ethnic identity and has helped fuel their 20-year insurgency against the Yemeni state. In September of last year, Houthi rebels, taking advantage of the chaos caused by the spillover of the Arab Spring into Yemen, marched into Sana’a, which had been virtually abandoned by the government’s security forces, and took it over.

The surprising move caused many in the Middle East to accuse Iran, whose Shiite government maintains strong religious and ideological connections with Yemen’s Zaidi community, of using the Houthis as a proxy army in order to destabilize Saudi Arabia’s southern regions. The latter are also populated by Shiite tribes, who are ethnically affiliated with the Houthis and view Iran as a kind of spiritual homeland. In Washington, the alleged Iranian link to the Houthi insurgency has been pointed to repeatedly by lawmakers opposed to the recent agreement between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. The lawmakers argue that, while nominally agreeing to end its nuclear program, Tehran has been secretly conspiring to destabilize the entire Arabian Peninsula.

However, a report in online news agency The Huffington Post said on Monday that American intelligence officials are far from convinced that Iran is actually directing the Houthi insurgency. Citing “American officials familiar with intelligence” operations in Yemen, the New York-based news agency said Iran actively opposed the Houthis’ advance on the Yemeni capital in September of last year, and tried to prevent it. The Houthis, however, simply ignored Tehran’s advice and took over Sana’a. The Huffington Post quotes one unnamed American intelligence official who says that “it is wrong to think of the Houthis as a proxy force of Iran”. The article also quotes Bernadette Meehan, spokeswoman for the United States National Security Council, who says that “it remains [the NSC’s] assessment that Iran does not exert command and control over the Houthis in Yemen”.

If it is accurate, the US intelligence assessment would mean that Tehran is far more interested in promoting its agreement with the P5+1 than commandeering a proxy war in Yemen. Additionally, those who suggest that Yemen’s Houthis are guided by Iran appear to ignore the fact that the Zaidis follow a branch of Shiite Islam that differs markedly from Iran’s. Knowledgeable observers have pointed out that the Houthi insurgency is far more concerned with combatting local government corruption and having a say in the country’s internal power struggles than promoting Shiite Islam in Yemen and beyond.

News you may have missed #888 (CIA edition)

YemenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►CIA said to have bought Iraqi chemical weapons. The CIA, working with US troops during the occupation of Iraq, repeatedly purchased nerve-agent rockets from a secretive Iraqi seller, part of a previously undisclosed effort to ensure that old chemical weapons remaining in Iraq did not fall into the hands of terrorists or militant groups, according to current and former US officials. The extraordinary arms purchase plan, known as Operation AVARICE, began in 2005 and continued into 2006, and the US military deemed it a nonproliferation success.
►►CIA fears enemy will gain control of the weather. The CIA is worried that a foreign power may develop the ability to manipulate the global climate in a way that cannot be detected, according to Professor Alan Robock, a leading climatologist. Robock claimed that consultants working for the CIA asked him whether it would be possible for a nation to meddle with the climate without being discovered. “At the same time, I thought they were probably also interested in if we could control somebody else’s climate, could they detect it”, he said.
►►CIA scales back presence and operations in Yemen. The closure of the US Embassy in Yemen has forced the CIA to significantly scale back its counterterrorism presence in the country, according to US officials, who said the evacuation represents a major setback in operations against al-Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate. The spy agency has pulled dozens of operatives, analysts and other staffers from Yemen as part of a broader extraction of roughly 200 Americans who had been based at the embassy in Sana’a, officials said. The departures were triggered by mounting concerns over security in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, where Houthi rebels have effectively toppled the government.

Shiite rebels abduct, then release, Yemen’s intelligence chief

YemenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Shiite rebels, who are in control of most of Yemeni capital Sana’a, released the country’s intelligence chief a few hours after abducting him from his home, according to local sources. The chief, Major General Yehia al-Marani, directs Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO), and is regularly referred to as the second most powerful security official in the country, after the director of the country’s National Security Bureau. The Associated Press reported early on Thursday that about 20 armed militia members appeared outside al-Marani’s home in Sana’a at daybreak and demanded that the general come with them. The PSO chief ordered his bodyguards to lay down their weapons and then went away escorted by the rebels. Al-Marani’s kidnappers were almost certainly Houthi militiamen, who are members of a Shiite militant group known as Ansarullah. The Houthis, who come from western Yemen, have been engaged in a secessionist armed struggle since 2004 against the Sunni-dominated Yemeni government. Last September, they took advantage of the power-vacuum created by the collapse of the regime of longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh and stormed the Yemeni capital, easily taking control of it within a few days. Their official reason for the takeover was their expressed desire to force President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who succeeded Saleh, to dissolve Yemen’s Sunni-led government, which the Houthis said was closely connected with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). After a period of prolonged negotiations with the rebels, President Hadi dissolved the government and replaced it with a more inclusive group of non-partisan technocrats. But the rebels refused to disband and disarm, and have since intensified their armed campaign, taking over a number of Yemeni cities and several major roads across the country. The Houthi leadership claims that they need to remain armed in order to fight militant Sunni groups operating in the country, and to battle corruption. Al-Marani was released by the rebels late on Thursday, with no explanation given as to his earlier abduction. It is believed that, before his appointment as head of PSO, the General served for 15 years as the Organization’s regional director in Sa’dah province, a Shiite stronghold where the Houthi insurgency has its roots. Some speculate that the rebels intended to settle old scores with al-Marani. Yemen government officials have refused to confirm or deny the reports of the Generals’ abduction and release.

Yemeni troops kill al-Qaeda suspects disguised as women

Yemeni women in Ta'izzBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Troops in Yemen shot dead five men, believed to be members of al-Qaeda, who tried to pass through a security checkpoint disguised as women. The incident reportedly happened on Saturday at an emergency roadside checkpoint set up by Yemeni troops in Harad, a dusty desert town located 10 miles south of Yemen’s border with Saudi Arabia. According to official reports, a minivan drove up to the checkpoint carrying what appeared to be six women, which was heading toward the Saudi border. All passengers were dressed in black robes and wore the niqab, a black cloth used to hide the face and worn along with the hijab, which typically covers a woman’s hair. The niqab is worn in several Arab countries, including Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Bahrain. Yemeni soldiers conferred briefly with the male driver of the vehicle before one of them climbed onboard the minivan for a routine inspection. At that moment, one of the minivan passengers opened fire at the soldier, wounding him. The rest of the members of the inspection unit then opened fire on the passengers, killing five of them. Following the incident, the Yemeni soldiers discovered that the minivan’s passengers were all men and had been armed. An official speaking at a press conference later that day reported that at least two of those killed were Saudi citizens. He added that one of the passengers, who was also disguised as a woman, survived, as did the male driver of the minivan. All are believed to be members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an armed Islamist movement that is widely seen as the most formidable branch of al-Qaeda anywhere in the world. Following the 2011 uprising in Yemen, which was part of the Arab Spring, AQAP took advantage of the collapse of the Yemeni state and took over large swathes of territory in Sunni-dominated eastern and southern Yemen. These areas are still considered AQAP strongholds today. Security forces in Yemen often conduct roadside inspections, but they rarely enter vehicles carrying women, in an attempt to respect tribal customs in what is a very conservative part of the Arab world. Authorities in Harad said on Saturday that, following the shootout, a suicide belt and several weapons were discovered onboard the minivan. The surviving passenger is being questioned, along with the driver of the vehicle.

Analysis: Why were Western diplomats evacuated from Yemen?

YemenBy J. FITSANAKIS and I. ALLEN | intelNews.org |
American and British embassies in Yemeni capital Sana’a were evacuated on Tuesday, soon after the United States closed 19 of its diplomatic representations in the Middle East and North Africa due to fears of a pending terrorist attack. But why exactly did the evacuations of diplomatic personnel take place in Sana’a? The Yemeni government announced on Wednesday that it had foiled a large-scale attack by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which allegedly aimed to cripple the country’s frail economy. According to Yemeni government spokesperson Rajeh Badi, the attack was planned to take place in the country’s central Hadramout governorate, which includes the port cities of al-Mukkala and Ghail Ba Wazir. The Yemeni government said the AQAP forces planned to blow up several oil pipelines before proceeding to occupy the two port cities, from which the majority of Yemen’s oil exports are shipped. Badi added that AQAP planned to take several foreign oil workers hostage as part of the military operations.

However, as Foreign Policy magazine’s Dana Stuster points out, Mohammed Albasha, spokesman of the Yemeni embassy in Washington, DC, seems to dispute his own government’s claims. Early on Wednesday, Albasha tweeted that, in his view, “AQAP doesn’t have the man power nor the capabilities to capture a city the size of Mukkala in Hadramout”, let alone Ghail Ba Wazir. Read more of this post

Analysis: Will 2013 Be the Year of the Unmanned Drone?

Predator droneBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
As United States President Barack Obama prepares to enter his fifth year in office, one may be excused for thinking that his administration’s response to insurgency warfare essentially boils down to one thing: the joystick. This is the means by which Washington’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) fleet is remotely guided, usually from the safety of ground control stations located thousands of miles away from selected targets. Even prior to last November’s Presidential election, Obama administration officials declared in every possible way that the drone campaign would remain a permanent feature of the White House’s counterinsurgency campaign. Not only that, but it seems increasingly apparent that when, on November 19, 2012, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that America’s UAV fleet would expand, he meant it both in terms of raw numbers and geographical reach. Africa appears now to be high on the list of UAV targets. The US is currently busy establishing a large network of small air bases located in strategic locations throughout the continent, in what US observers have termed a “massive expansion” of US covert operations in Africa. Read more of this post

Saudi diplomat shot dead in Yemen by gunmen disguised as soldiers

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
An official at the Saudi Arabian embassy in Yemen has been shot dead along with this Yemeni bodyguard by a group of gunmen disguised as government security forces. According to television station al-Arabiya, which is owned by the Saudi government, the diplomat and his bodyguard were killed on Wednesday when their car was “raked with gunfire” in the heart of Yemeni capital Sana’a. Later in the day, the incident was confirmed by the Kingdom’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which identified the assassinated diplomat as Sergeant Khaled Shobeikan al-Anzi. IntelNews understands that al-Anzi worked as an aide to the Military Attaché at the Saudi Arabian embassy in Sana’a. There are rumors, however, that his diplomatic credentials may have been a cover for his intelligence work for Al-Mukhabarat Al-A’amah, Saudi Arabia’s military intelligence agency. Sources in Yemen report that the attack took place in Haddah, one of Sana’a’s more exclusive districts, which houses the majority of foreign embassies and diplomatic compounds in the capital. It is also worth noting that the assailants were reportedly “dressed in the uniforms of [Yemen’s] Central Security Organization”, a 50,000-strong National Guard-type force that operates under the direction of the Ministry of the Interior. Wednesday’s assassination of the Saudi diplomat is the latest incident in a series of attacks against diplomatic targets in Sana’a, which have included employees in the British and American embassies there. In late March of this year, Islamist militants kidnapped Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Consul in Yemen’s southern port city of Aden, who remains in captivity. Read more of this post

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