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Cablegate: Saudi Strikes in Yemen: An Invitation to Iran -

DE RUEHYN #2070/01 3201451
R 161451Z NOV 09

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 SANAA 002070



E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/16/2019


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

1. (S/NF) SUMMARY. Saudi airstrikes on the Yemeni border
continue but have not managed to clear the area of Houthi
rebels. Yemeni journalists and the Houthis report Saudi
strikes are hitting Yemeni targets, claims that are denied by
the ROYG and SAG. Multiple media sources report the Saudi
Navy is imposing a blockade on ports along northern Yemen's
Red Sea coast. As Yemen's neighbors rush to offer the ROYG
additional weapons and munitions, Iranian officials denounce
the Saudi strikes and are calling for Islamic states to
defend innocent Shi'a from ROYG and SAG attacks. Yemeni
analysts fear that military action by Saudi Arabia is
creating a regional, sectarian war that will lead to direct
Iranian involvement. It is also possible that the Houthis
have sought to internationalize the conflict, either to
attract international support or to ensure that any
negotiated political solution would include international,
not ROYG, mediators. President Saleh appears to have gained
the most from recent developments, as he has finally obtained
direct political, financial, and military support for the war
from powerful neighbors -- who also happen to be close U.S.
allies. END SUMMARY.

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Saudi strikes and clashes intensify

2. (SBU) Saudi airstrikes on the Yemeni border continue, but
have not managed to clear the area of Houthi rebels. On
November 14, Houthi fighters reportedly killed two Saudi
soldiers and injured five others in the Jebel al-Dukhan area,
which reportedly had come under Saudi control days earlier.
Though the ROYG and SAG deny it, the Houthis claim Saudi
bombardment of Yemeni territory continued November 12-15,
including in Malahit, Shada, Hasamah, and Haydan districts.
Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam told AFP on November 13
that Saudi bombing reached up to 60 kilometers inside Yemeni
territory.xxxxx told
PolOff xxxxx that the KSA is "hitting targets in
Yemen." Both xxxxx and xxxxx,
pointed out that Saudi officials have announced their
government's intention of establishing a "buffer zone" by
pushing the Houthis dozens of kilometers away from the
border. To achieve this goal, they argue, SAG would have to
bomb targets inside Yemen. According to Yemeni press, Saudi
newspaper al-Riyad reported that Houthi spokesman Abdulsalam
was killed in a November 15 Saudi airstrike on the Houthis'
media center in Razeh district )- a district that is inside
Yemeni territory.

Saudi ships patrolling off yemeni coast

3. (S/NF) Meanwhile, multiple media reported that Saudi
Arabia imposed a blockade on ports along northern Yemen's Red
Sea coast to prevent arms smuggling to the Houthis.
(Comment: These accounts of a blockade appear exaggerated, as
analysts question whether the Saudi Navy could physically
enforce one. End Comment.) However, the DATT reports the
Yemeni Coast Guard reached an agreement with the Saudi Navy
to blockade Midi Port. The two nations' maritime forces are
communicating about their anti-smuggling efforts, but it is
not clear to what extent, nor if their efforts are being
coordinated. (Comment: The maritime forces' activities are
presumably a reaction to the October 25 seizure of an
Iranian-crewed ship off the coast of Yemen's Midi Port that
was allegedly smuggling arms to the Houthis. The ROYG has
yet to produce evidence that Iranians were smuggling arms to
the Houthis, as the ship was apparently empty when it was
seized. However, echoing a claim Yemen Ambassador al-Hajjri
made recently, Foreign Minister Qirbi told PolChief on
November 15 the fact that the ship was empty indicated the
arms had already been delivered. End Comment.)

Neighbors rush to aid the royg

4. (S/NF) Across the region, governments are rushing to aid
the ROYG in its battle against the Houthis. The Saudis have
agreed to provide the ROYG with APCs, weapons, and ammunition
and to assist in the purchase of helicopters for the Yemeni
Air Force. The SAG is also offering to purchase weapons and
ammunition from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, while the
UAE has agreed to broker a similar deal with Bulgaria

Sanaa 00002070 002 of 003

(reftel). Official media reported that the Kuwaiti
Ambassador to Yemen met with Minister of Interior Rashad
al-Masri on November 15 to discuss security cooperation,
presumably related to the war in Sa'ada.

Iranian indignation

5. (SBU) On November 15, the Iranian parliament condemned
Saudi interference in the conflict and denounced the "killing
(of) Yemeni people by Saudi Arabian fighter jets." In its
statement, the Majlis urged "all sympathetic officials in the
Islamic world ... to utilize all their potential to stop this
tragedy and put an end to the killings," according to Tehran
Mehr News Agency. The Yemen Post reported on November 15
that the Speaker of Iran's Shura Council, Ali Larijani,
accused the US and Saudi Arabia of targeting Shi'ite rebels
in Yemen. In a statement posted on the Council's website, he
said the USG was an accomplice in the attacks against the
Houthis. Meanwhile, ROYG officials repeated their
accusations that Iran is funding the Houthis. In a November
15 al-Jazeera interview, General Yahya Saleh, the Qident's
nephew anQmmander of the Central Security Forces
Counter-Terrorism Unit, said there is "no doubt" Iran is
supporting the Houthis )- "the Houthis cannot fund and fight
this war with pomegranates and grapes or drugs," he said.

Houthis: "u.s. Plan to silence us"

6. (SBU) The Houthis are also accusing the USG of
involvement in efforts to subdue them. On November 15,
Hizballah's al-Manar TV aired a telephone intervQwith
Houthi spokesman Abdulsalam in which he said the Saudis had
been compelled to strike the Houthis after the ROYG failed to
implement the "U.S. plan" to silence and subjugate the
Houthis. He said the allegations that the Houthis
infiltrated Saudi Arabia are nothing more than a pretext to
justify a "U.S.-Yemeni security plan" to prolong the war.
(Comment: This may refer to false reports in the official
Yemeni media that the USG and ROYG signed a military
agreement at the November 10-12 joint staff talks. While
Post issued a statement clarifying that no such agreement was
signed, the initial report, implying that the agreement will
aid Yemen's battle against the Houthis, was picked up by
Iran's Press TV and even Voice of America. End Comment.)

Implications of regionalization,
fears of saudi over-reaction

7. (C) Yemeni analysts believe Saudi involvement is creating
a regional sectarian war that will serve as an invitation to
Iranian involvement.xxxxx, told the Ambassador on November 15 that
Sa'ada residents are increasingly seeing the conflict as a
religious one and believe that the Houthis achieve
battlefield victories because God is on their side. He added
that Saudi Arabia's involvement is only encouraging the
Houthis and their supporters to see the conflict in sectarian
terms. He claimed the situation in Sa'ada is as bad as it is
because the religious factor helps the Houthis garner support
from the local population; by sharpening that aspect of the
conflict, Saudi involvement could mobilize additional support
for the Houthis, he concluded. Moreover, xxxxx
believes the Houthis might begin supporting Zaydis on the
Saudi side of the border, home to an estimated 2,000 Zaydi
Saudis. While they may not share the same grievances as
Zaydis in northern Yemen, if the conflict becomes
increasingly sectarian, Saudi Zaydis may find a new champion
in the Houthis, and the Houthis may find a new base of
support among the Saudi population. Furthermore, Qadhi told
PolOff on November 15 there is growing sentiment among
Iranians that they "should not leave Yemen's Shi'a alone to
face aggression from the Saudi and Yemeni governments."

8. (C) xxxxx fears that the guerrilla nature of the
war, in which small groups of Houthi fighters familiar with
the rugged terrain launch sneak attacks at a mighty foe,
could provoke the Saudis into over-reacting and causing
serious harm to civilians caught in the crossfire. Saudi
Arabia is using state-of-the-art weaponry against the
Houthis, but in more than a week of heavy bombings apparently
have not been able to clear them from the area. xxxxx says
if the "little brat in the neighborhood" can continue to

Sanaa 00002070 003 of 003

capture and kill Saudi soldiers, the KSA may not react
rationally and may begin targeting villages, markets, and
other civilian gathering places in order to root out the

Houthi gambit?

9. (C) What prompted the SAG's involvement in the war is a
subject of considerable speculation in Yemen. While
President Saleh has long been encouraging Saudi Arabia to
join the fight, most analysts believe the Houthis had reason
to provoke their involvement as well. xxxxx thinks the
Houthis attacked the Saudi border guards in order to
internationalize the conflict. "Maybe they drew in Saudi
Arabia because they wanted to negotiate with the master
rather than the servant," he told PolOff on November 15.
Havez al-Bukari, President of Yemen Polling Center, agrees
that the Houthis wanted to draw Saudi Arabia into the
conflict in order to get more attention from the
international community. According to Bukari, by
internationalizing the conflict, the Houthis' demands for
international mediation )- which the ROYG has refused,
insisting that any negotiations will be handled domestically
-) become much stronger. He believes the Houthis want a
foreign government or international body to broker dialogue
between the ROYG and the Houthis, since previous peace talks
were predominantly internal affairs. They want a "partner"
in the talks, not a "sponsor" of them, as he characterized
Qatar's role in mediating the 2008 Doha peace accord.


10. (S/NF) The ROYG and the Houthis both stand to gain from
expanding the conflict beyond Yemen's borders: the ROYG
benefits from the military and financial might of its
powerful northern neighbor, while the Houthis are better
positioned to receive overt Iranian backing or to spur some
sort of international political settlement. Yet the benefit
to Saudi Arabia seems less clear. While the need to protect
its border is obvious, the airstrikes could backfire in a
number of ways. First, the SAG risks becoming embroiled in
an intractable guerrilla war. Second, Saudi involvement
fuels the ROYG's perception that the real, immediate threat
to the Arabian Peninsula is the Houthis, not al-Qaeda.
Third, as noted reftel, by transferring millions of dollars
worth of weapons to the ROYG, there is a strong chance the
very same weapons will leak into the gray market and end up
being used against Saudi Arabia by terrorists. Fourth, it
invites Iranian involvement )- which creates a
self-fulfilling prophecy, since the fear that Iran was at
Saudi's doorstep is partly what motivated the strikes in the
first place.

11. (S/NF) COMMENT CONTINUED. In the short-term at least,
it seems like President Saleh has gained the most from the
Saudis' entry into the conflict. His glee when the Saudis
launched their airstrikes indicates he finally received what
he has been pushing for )- political, financial, and direct
military support for the war from Yemen's powerful neighbor
and principal benefactor. He will use this support to battle
the Houthis as well as to send a signal of the regime's
staying power to other domestic actors who may seek to
undermine it. Saleh will not rest with Saudi support,
however, and will doubtlessly rely on the SAG to advocate
some measure of USG involvement, given our strong ties to

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