Cablegate: Saudi Airstrikes at Yemen Border


DE RUEHYN #2040/01 3131333
R 091333Z NOV 09

S E C R E T SANAA 002040



E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/09/2019

Classified By: Ambassador Stephen Seche for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) SUMMARY. Local sources confirm that Saudi Arabia
continued to launch airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Jebel
al-Dukhan area on the Saudi-Yemeni border, despite ROYG
statements to the contrary. In an unusual twist, the Houthis
are now casting themselves as defenders of Yemen's
sovereignty against an unwarranted Saudi attack, while
President Saleh's public remarks point to his delight that
the KSA has officially joined his war against the Houthis.
While Saudi airstrikes may succeed in driving the Houthis
from some of their border strongholds, they are unlikely to
have much impact on the Sa'ada war without an accompanying
ground invasion. END SUMMARY.

Local sources: saudi airstrikes continue, but where?
--------------------------------------------- -------

2. (C) In response to Houthi incursions into Saudi territory
and a November 2 Houthi attack on Saudi border guards, Saudi
Arabia continued to launch airstrikes against Houthi rebels
in the Jebel al-Dukhan area on the Saudi-Yemeni border, local
sources told PolOffs in early November. In contradiction to
AP reports that Saudi Arabia regained control of contested
Jebel al-Dukhan on November 8, the Houthis denied that the
Saudis had taken the mountain, claiming they were still in
control. Also on November 8, a ROYG aircraft crashed in
Razih district (which borders Saudi Arabia to the north of
Malahit); the Houthis took credit for downing it, while the
ROYG claimed mechanical failure. Independent Yemeni
journalists report that, contrary to official Saudi
statements, Saudi airplanes have entered Yemeni airspace and
hit targets inside of Yemen.xxxxx told PolOff on November 6 that the Saudi
Air Force bombed Tihana, Malahit, and Hasama districts within
Yemen. He also reported the Saudis were massing troops
stationed near the border.xxxxx confirmed that airstrikes have occurred in Yemeni
territory. "The Yemeni government denies this, but the Saudi
government is acting in full coordination with the Yemeni
government," he told PolOff on November 6.

3. (S/NF) The Houthis, too, have accused the Saudi Air Force
of bombing Yemeni territory, including residential areas in
al-Hattamah, al-Malahit, al-Hassamah, al-Majda'ah, and
Ghamar, killing and wounding civilians in the latter. The
Houthis also claimed to have captured some Saudi soldiers,
which the SAG denied. (Note:xxxxx promised to air footage of the captured
Saudi soldiers, but none has been broadcast to date. End
Note.) UNHCR Representative Claire Bourgeois told PolOff
that 135 families fleeing the area caught in the conflict
arrived at the Mazraq IDP camp in Hajja governorate on
November 7. "Seven hundred people - this is a huge increase
in one day," she said. (Comment: Bourgeois expects a report
from UNHCR on November 10 with the recent arrivals'
eye-witness accounts from the conflict zone, which could
provide more clarity on the fighting. End Comment.)

Border confusion...

4. (C) According to xxxxx, the contested area in Jebel
al-Dukhan is officially part of Saudi Arabia, but when the
border between Yemen and Saudi Arabia was drawn through the
area, it cut through the territory that had traditionally
belonged to a Zaydi Yemeni tribe. He told PolOff on November
8 that because "tribal territories transcend international
borders," the tribes living in that area consider it Yemeni
even if it is officially Saudi. Furthermore, while the
members of the tribe whose territory straddles the two
countries identify first and foremost with their tribe, they
identify secondly as Yemenis, not Saudis - regardless of
which side of the border they live on. Adding to the
confusion about whether Jebel al-Dukhan falls in Yemeni or
Saudi territory is the fact that ROYG forces continue to
fight throughout the area.

... And allegations of cross-border collaboration
--------------------------------------------- ----

5. (C) xxxxx believes there was probably an agreement
between the ROYG and KSA to encircle the Houthis by attacking
them simultaneously from the north and the south. According
to xxxxx the SAG had granted the ROYG military access to
Jebel al-Dukhan in order to gain leverage over the Houthis,
but the Houthis were able to rout them, so the Saudis
launched airstrikes to clear Houthis from the area. The
Houthis claimed to take control of Jebel al-Dukhan on
November 2. In a telephone interview with al-Jazeera xxxxx accused the Saudis of
allowing the Yemeni military to access Jebel al-Dukhan from
the Saudi border in order to launch a counter-offensive to
re-take the mountain. xxxxx said, "We do not target Saudi
territory and we are not fighting them in their territory or
in the areas under their control. The problem is that we are
facing aggression, and there is clear cooperation between the
Saudi regime and the Yemeni regime."

Houthis: we are defending yemen's sovereignty

6. (SBU) In an unusual twist, the Houthis are now casting
themselves as defenders of Yemen's sovereignty and
territorial integrity. In a November 6 statement, the
Houthis accused the Saudis of launching a ground offensive
into Yemen after heavy bombardment of the Malahit and
Hassamah regions. The Houthis continued to deny having any
presence in Saudi territory and claimed that "the Yemeni
people will take a stand regarding these infringements on
Yemen's sovereignty, and we hold the Saudi authorities fully
responsible for the results of these uncalled for
infringements on Yemen's sovereignty and territories."

Saleh: the war in sa'ada has only just begun

7. (C) Local observers report that President Saleh is
thrilled that the Saudis have become militarily involved in
the conflict. Saleh's enthusiasm was evident in his November
7 speech at a ceremony launching the first shipment of
Yemen's liquefied natural gas project. He said the "real
war" against the Houthis had begun only two days before )
the day the Saudi airstrikes began. He described the
previous six rounds of the Sa'ada war as "a rehearsal to test
our capabilities," adding that the war will not end until the
Houthis are crushed entirely. Abdullah Ahmed Ghanem, Chief
of the Political Department of the ruling General People's
Congress (GPC) party, agreed that Saudi involvement was a
positive development. He told PolOff on November 9 that
"Yemeni-Saudi relations are very good now, and because of
this war they're going to get better and better. The Houthis
are our joint enemy."

Yemenis weight in: what to expect from saudi involvement
--------------------------------------------- -----------

8. (S/NF) xxxxx suspects the ROYG approached the Saudis and
asked for their support because it is suffering tremendous
losses in Sa'ada. According to xxxxx military sources, the
ROYG has lost scores of military positions in Sa'ada
governorate. "It's a big fiasco," he said, "and that's why
(Saleh) wants Saudi involvement." xxxxx also noted that
President Saleh is increasingly losing faith in his own
military, which is another reason he needs Saudi help. The
President has placed trusted family members at the helm of
campaigns to retake embattled Malahit and Sa'ada City.
According to Aden Press, President Saleh put his son Ahmad
Ali Abdullah Saleh, commander of the Republican Guard, in
charge of the military campaign in Malahit, taking it out of
the hands of the ROYG military's Northwest Region commander
Ali Muhsin. According to DAO reporting, the Ministry of
Interior's (MOI) Yemeni Central Security Force )
Counterterrorism Unit (CSF-CTU), led by presidential nephew
Yahya Muhammad Abdullah Saleh, has been tasked with
formulating an operational plan for clearing the Houthis from
their stronghold in the old quarter of Sa'ada City.

9. (C) Some observers, such as xxxxx, believe
Saudi military involvement will bring the war to a swifter
conclusion. But others do not see Saudi involvement as a
silver bullet. xxxxx expects Saudi involvement to continue,
pointing to media reports that KSA is massing ground troops
at the Saudi-Yemen border. In his view, the "big
mobilization" of troops signals the intention to be engaged
for a long time. He does not see a quick end to the war,
though, because it has expanded to include tribes whose
territories span the Saudi-Yemeni border. With the tribal
dynamics of blood feuds and revenge killings, "the Saudis
have gotten themselves caught in a big swamp" from which it
will be hard to extract themselves, he believes.

10. (C) By all accounts, the ROYG has welcomed Saudi
involvement against the Houthis. The ROYG is likely to
encourage the Saudis to deepen their involvement, perhaps by
taking action in border areas north of Jebel al-Dukhan still
under Houthi control. While Saudi involvement may succeed in
driving the Houthis from some of their border strongholds, it
is unlikely to substantially weaken them or have an impact on
the overall war in Sa'ada. Continued Saudi military
operations in the border regions could actually fuel the war,
since the local populations have a great deal of distrust for
central government authority, whether Saudi or Yemeni. END

© Scoop Media

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