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Big change in Yemen conflict as former President Saleh swaps sides

The Houthis are now officially alone, fighting every other faction–and they still appear to be holding everyone off.

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The current conflict in Yemen has been shaken by the apparent defection of Ali Abdullah Saleh to the Saudis and de-facto to the Aden based government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. Initially, the apparent defection of Saleh resulted in troops personally loyal to him fighting Houthi rebels in the capital of Sana’a.

Arabic media initially reported that on the 2nd of December, forces loyal to Saleh were in control of most of Sana’a, but by early morning on the 3rd, Houthis claimed to have reversed their losses due to a new military push by Houthi fighters and defectors from Saleh’s forces who had decided to remain loyal to the Houhi’s.

To understand the significance of this, it is important to understand the background of both “Presdents” Saleh and Hadi.

1990 saw the neighbouring states of the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) and People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen), unite as the Republic of Yemen, under the Presidency of North Yemeni Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The united state which was shaky from the beginning was torn apart in 1994 during the first of many civil conflicts in post-1990 Yemen. During that war, Southern born Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi sided not with southern rebels but with the Saleh government in Sana’a. Saudi Arabia notably broke with the United States to side with the leftist rebels of the South.

Ultimately, the Southern forces lost and Yemen became reunited. Hadi who had risen to the rank of Defence Minister during the conflict, was rewarded for his loyalty with the appointment of Vice President of Yemen.

Stability in Yemen however, was always tenuous due to the competing interests of various factions and individuals. 1994 saw the formation of a new opposition group, rallying around their leader Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi. After Hussein’s death in 2004, the group’s leadership fell to Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi. The Houthi movement officially known as Ansar Allah (Supporters of God), continued to make demands on the central government for a fairer distribution of wealth, less corruption and a more democratic representation for follows of Zaidi of Fiver Shi’a Islam. Zaidi Shias make up around 40% of Yemen’s population with most of the rest of Yemenis being Sunni. The Christian population of the country is comparatively negligible.

At the same time, after 2007, a group in southern Yemen called the Southern Movement formed. This group agitates for the re-creation of Southern Yemen and is made up of a combination of pan-Arabist socialists, hard-line Marxist-Leninist who seek to restore the Soviet model of their former state and also some Takfiri/Salafist elements. The movement in this sense while influential to a degree, is also far from a coherent political/ideological unit.

The Southern Movement and the ambiguities of the civil war in Yemen

In 2011, mass protests formed against President Saleh. As the poorest country in the Arab world, a diverse set of forces mobilised against Saleh accusing him of economic deprivation of the country, corruption and incompetence. Among participating groups in the protest were the Houthi movement and the Southern Movement. Other forces included al-Qaeda terrorists. ISIS formed syndicates in Yemen in subsequent years. Ultimately, the Houthis did not participate in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) brokered settlement.

In 2012, Saleh stepped down and was replaced by Vice President Hadi and his term was later extended by a GCC brokered accord.

Although the Houthis tentatively supported the changes in 2011, the subsequent reforms did not meet the expectation of the Houthi movement. In particularly, Houthis resented an attempt to create new federal units in the country.

Consequently in 2015, Houthis stormed the Presidential palace, ultimately forcing Hadi to flee. Since then Saleh, whom the Houthis once protested against, has become a supporter of the Houthi rebellion. Saleh was initially highly important to the Houthis. As the longest severing President of the Republic of Yemen (united Yemen), he instantly lent credibility to an otherwise localised movement. As a long serving former President who had conversations with leaders ranging from Bill Clinton to Vladimir Putin, Saleh was somewhat necessary to the Houthis in order to be taken seriously on an international level, not least because Yemen is often the ‘ignored country’ in an Arab world that for decades has been watched closely by major international powers.

At the same time, Hadi fled to the former Southern capital of Aden where he allied with a combination of Southern Movement leftists, Takfiri groups and ultimately with the GCC coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE (Qatar quit the coalition in 2017 and has subsequently criticised Saudi Arabia on state owned media outlets).

In recent months, following a trend of the last year or so, Saleh has become increasingly dispensable to the Houthis. As a political leader Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi has proved himself to be not only capable but inspiring, while Saleh has been exposed as something of an opportunist, simply trying to align himself with that he felt was the winning side so that he could act as President of the country he formally ruled between 1990 and 2012.

Now though, it would appear that Saleh has switched sides after doing a deal with the Saudis. While the details or even the existence of the deal cannot be fully confirmed. Saleh recently appeared on television urging for a truce with what he called “our Saudi brothers”.

The rise of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) in Saudi Arabia, has seen him eager to end the war in Yemen which he fuelled as Saudi Arabia’s Defence Minister. The war has been uniformly disastrous from all perspectives. Saudi Arabia’s indiscriminate bombings have caused a humanitarian crisis, the likes of which have not been seen in the 21st century. The Saudi led blockade of Houthi controlled Yemen has caused a Cholera outbreak, mass starvation and untold deaths, especially among children.

From the Saudi perspective, Riyadh and MBS in particular faces the embarrassing situation of not being able to subdue a Houthi fighting force whose weapons are technically no match for Saudi Arabia’s ultra-modern US made jets and missiles.

In order to justify this embarrassment, Saudi media regularly claims that Houthis are being armed by Iran or even more absurdly by Lebanon’s Hezbollah. However, this is logistically impossible as Iran would have to either airlift weapons to Yemen or else break the Saudi naval blockade and this simply hasn’t happened. Hezbollah of course, has neither an air force nor a navy. Others have claimed that Houthis are being supplied via arms dealers working in Oman. This claim is vehemently denied by the Omani authorities and because there is no credible evidence of Houthis being armed via Oman, this would appear to be another Saudi lie designed to excuse their military incompetence.

The inevitable Houthi falling out with Saleh has come at a time with Houthis have exploited political instability in Saudi Arabia with more frequent missile attacks. The missiles used are medium to short range ballistics that Houthis have seized from Yemeni military bases. They are far cruder than modern Iranian operated weapons, but still occasionally land hits on Saudi territory in spite of Saudi’s advanced US anti-missile defence systems. The accuracy of such missiles is still not entirely clear as frequently, Houthis claim to have struck Saudi targets, while the Saudis typically claim they intercepted the missiles. In the fog of a war which few reporters have access to, it is anyone’s guess who is being more honest in this respect, although on many occasions, Houthis do post videos which appear to confirm their narrative of success against the richest country in the Arab world.

Saleh’s defecting to the Saudi side appears to be engineered by Riyadh and agreed upon by Saleh who was almost certainly offered a large cash incentive to turn on the Houthis. While in public, Saudi Arabia is now claiming to welcome a truce offered by Saleh, in reality, a personal deal between Saleh and Riaydh is the far more likely expiation before Saleh’s offer.

Subsequent to this development, Houthi online social media outlets have been quick to discredit Saleh. Claiming to have taken Saleh’s compound in Sana’a, they released a photograph showing a table filled with luxury alcoholic drinks, something which would infuriate the pious followers of Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi.

This all leads one to conclude that where the Yemeni conflict once was between factions loyal to one of two Yemeni Presidents (Saleh and Hadi), now the conflict is officially one where the Houthis are fighting everyone else, including Hadi’s forces, Saleh’s forces who have turned on the Houthis and more importantly, the military of Saudi Arabia.

The Houthi star among the wider Islamic Resistance has grown due to their ability to see off a vastly more powerful Saudi led onslaught ever since 2015.

If the Houthis are able to continue holding off Saudi Arabia, even without Saleh on their side, the embarrassment for Saudi Arabia will be all the more apparent. The Houthis do not need to “win”, they simply need Saudi to lose, in order to claim a meaningful victory. The Saudis on the other hand, need to take Sana’a in order to justify their aggressive war to their own side which is experiencing an onset of war fatigue.

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Theresa May’s soft Brexit plan continues to fail, as EU now pushing for UK to leave (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 138.

Alex Christoforou

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Theresa May’s soft Brexit strategy has been such a monumental failure that even Brussels negotiators are now pushing for the UK to simply leave the union, in what has becoming a British debacle, and a thorn in the Conservative Party’s side.

Many media pundits and analysts are now asking if the latest impasse in Brexit talks means that we are indeed seeing the last days of Theresa May?

While much of the mess the Conservative Party finds themselves in because of Brexit is squarely Theresa May’s fault, much of the damage done by May’s inability to close the deal on Brexit will not go away, even if she does.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s continued failure to obtain her soft Brexit dream, placing herself (and her Conservative Party) in such an embarrassing position, that European Union negotiators, tired of never ending talks, are eager to see Britain go away, in what will be an inevitable hard Brexit.

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“Are these the last days of Theresa May?”, authored by Stephen Bush via The New Statesman:


Are these the last days of Theresa May? This morning’s papers are full of stories of plots and ultimatums to the Prime Minister unless she changes her Brexit strategy, whether from her Scottish MPs over any extension of the transition period due to concerns over fisheries policy, from her Brexiteer MPs over the backstop or from her Cabinet over practically everything.

All this before the Budget next Monday, when Philip Hammond is going to have to find some way to pay for the extra cash for the NHS and Universal Credit all while keeping to May’s pledge that debt will continue to fall as a share of GDP. So added to all May’s Brexit woes, a row over tax rises could be coming down the track.

Of course, the PM’s position has been perilous for a very long time – in fact, when you remember that her period of hegemony ran from July 2016 to June 2017, she’s actually been under threat for more of her premiership than she hasn’t. But just because you roll heads 36 times in a row doesn’t mean your chances of rolling tails aren’t 50/50 on roll 37, and May’s luck could well be running out.

But while May shares a good size of the blame for the mess that the Conservative Party are in, it’s not all her fault by any means and none of those problems will go away if May is replaced or changes tack to win over her internal opponents in the European Research Group.

Ireland has a veto over the end state and only an indefinite and legally binding backstop for the island of Ireland will do if any deal is to be signed off. It’s true to say that no deal also means a hard border on the island of Ireland, but it’s also true that it will always been in the political interests of whoever is in office in Ireland for a hard border to be imposed as a result of no deal rather than for the Irish government to acquiesce in the creation of one through a EU-UK treaty.

The DUP can bring the Conservative government to an early end so they, too, have a de facto veto over any deal that creates barriers between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. But the only UK-wide solution – for the backstop to encompass the whole of the United Kingdom – is nothing doing with pro-Brexit Conservative MPs who don’t want an indefinite backstop. It’s also politically tricky with many EU member states, who don’t want the default outcome of the talks to be a UK-wide backstop, which many regard as a threat to the sanctity of single market. (The only reason why it is acceptable on the Irish border is because Ireland is still a member state and because the Irish border was both the location and the cause of political violence within living memory.)

Added to that, the Conservative parliamentary party seems to be undergoing a similar psychological journey to the one that Steve van Riel described during the 2015 Labour leadership election: that groups of any kind tend to reach a more extreme position the longer an issue is debated. Brexiteers who spent 20 years saying they wanted a Norway style deal now talk of Norway as a betrayal. Leavers who cheerily talked about making Northern Ireland into its own customs area before Brexit now talk of the backstop as a constitutional betrayal. And Conservative Remainers who only reluctantly backed an In vote to avoid the political upheaval of negotiating Brexit, or the loss of David Cameron, now call for a referendum re-run and privately flirt with the idea of a new party.

Some of that is May’s fault, yes. But none of it is going to go away if she does and all of it makes the prospect of reaching a Brexit deal considerably less likely.

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Saudi Crown Prince Spoke To Khashoggi By Phone Moments Before He Was Killed: Report

The shifting Saudi narrative of the killing has been met with scepticism and condemnation from the international community.

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Via Zerohedge


In the latest bombshell report involving the Khashoggi murder, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly spoke on the phone with journalist Jamal Khashoggi moments before he was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkish pro-government daily Yeni Safak disclosed the new alleged details of the case in a report on Sunday, contradicting claims by Saudi authorities that Prince Mohammed played no part in Khashoggi’s murder.

“Khashoggi was detained by the Saudi team inside the consulate building. Then Prince Mohammed contacted Khashoggi by phone and tried to convince him to return to Riyadh,” the report said.

“Khashoggi refused Prince Mohammed’s offer out of fear he would be arrested and killed if he returned. The assassination team then killed Khashoggi after the conversation ended,” it added.

While the report is so far unconfirmed, the New Arab reports that so far Turkish pro-government media have been receiving a steady stream of leaks many of which turned out to be accurate, including pictures of the hit team as they entered Turkey and reports of audio recordings of the murder said to be in the possession of Turkish authorities.

Meanwhile, the Saudi version of events has been changing significantly over the past two weeks with authorities conceded Saturday that Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist and a Riyadh critic, was killed inside the kingdom’s Istanbul diplomatic compound following a “brawl”. The admission came after a fortnight of denials with the insistence that the journalist left the consulate alive, starting on October 5, when Crown Prince MBS told Bloomberg that Khashoggi was not inside the consulate and “we are ready to welcome the Turkish government to go and search our premises”.

On Saturday, the kingdom announced it had fired five top officials and arrested 18 others in an investigation into the killing – a move that has widely been viewed as an attempt to cover up the crown prince’s role in the murder.

The shifting Saudi narrative of the killing has been met with scepticism and condemnation from the international community, and has left the U.S. and other allies struggling for a response on Sunday. As Bloomberg reports, France demanded more information, Germany put arms sales to Riyadh on hold and the Trump administration stressed the vital importance of the kingdom and its economy to the U.S.

In Sunday radio and TV interviews, Dominic Raab, the U.K. politician in charge of negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union, described the latest Saudi account as not credible; French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire called for “the truth’’; and Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said his government would approve no arms sales so long as the investigation was ongoing.

Earlier on Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir acknowledged a cover-up attempt. The dramatic reversal, after Saudi officials had previously said the columnist left the building alive, has only complicated the issue for allies.

Saudi Arabia’s al-Jubeir told Fox News on Sunday that the journalist’s death was an “aberration.”

“There obviously was a tremendous mistake made and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to cover up,” he said, promising that “those responsible will be punished for it.”

More importantly, he said that Prince Mohammed had no knowledge of the events, although if the Turkish report is confirmed, it will be yet another major flaw with the official narrative.

Several senior members of US President Donald Trump’s Republican Party said they believed Prince Mohammed was linked to the killing, and one called for a “collective” Western response if a link is proved. In an interview with The Washington Post, President Trump, too, said the Saudi narrative had been marked by “deception and lies.’’ Yet he also defended Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a “strong person,’’ and said there was no proof of his involvement in Khashoggi’s death. Some members of Congress have questioned his willingness to exonerate the prince.

“Obviously there’s been deception and there’s been lies,” Trump said on the shifting accounts offered by Riyadh.

On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to disclose details about the case at a meeting of his AK Party’s parliamentary faction on Tuesday, Haberturk newspaper reported.

Meanwhile, as Western firms and high-ranked officials scramble to avoid any Saudi involvement, Russia is more than happy to step in and fill the power vacuum void left by the US. As a result, Russian businesses are flocking to attend the investment forum in Saudi Arabia, as Western counterparts pull out.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has had considerable success boosting Moscow’s influence in the Middle East at U.S. expense, by standing by regimes that fall afoul of the West, including in Syria and Iran. Last week Putin signed a strategic and partnership agreement with Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, backed by $25 billion in loans to build nuclear reactors. Until El-Sisi came to power, Egypt had been closely allied to the U.S.

Meanwhile, all eyes are fixed squarely on the Crown Prince whose position of power is looking increasingly perilous. Congressional leaders on Sunday dismissed the story proffered earlier by the Saudis, with Republican Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bob Corker of Tennessee saying they believed the crown prince was likely involved in Khashoggi’s death.

Lawmakers said they believe the U.S. must impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia or take other action if the crown prince is shown to have been involved. Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, said the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. should be formally expelled until a third-party investigation is done. He said the U.S. should call on its allies to do the same.

“Unless the Saudi kingdom understands that civilized countries around the world are going to reject this conduct and make sure that they pay a price for it, they’ll continue doing it,”’ Durbin said.

The obvious question is what happens and how the Saudi royal family will respond if it is pushed too far, and whether the worst case scenario, a sharp cut in oil exports, could be on the table if MBS feels like he has little to lose from escalating the situation beyond a point of no return.

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The Biggest Winners In The Mediterranean Energy War

Energy companies are flocking to the Mediterranean after oil and gas discoveries in the territorial waters of Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt.

The Duran

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Authored by Vanand Meliksetian via Oilprice.com:


Former Vice-President of the United States Dick Cheney once said: “the good lord didn’t see fit to put oil and gas only where there are democratically elected states… Occasionally we have to operate in places where, all considered, one would not normally choose to go. But we go where the business is.” Europe is surrounded by states with abundant energy resources, but supply from these countries is not always as reliable. Russia, for example, is regularly accused of using energy as a weapon. However, major discoveries of gas in the Eastern Mediterranean could mitigate dependence on Russian gas.

The discovery of a gas field named Tamar near the coast of Israel in 2009 set off a wave of investments in the energy sector. After 9 years, companies are flocking to the region after other discoveries in the territorial waters of Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt. Ever larger finds in the Mediterranean Sea’s Levant Basin such as the Leviathan gas field in 2010 and Zohr in 2015, have the potential to transform the strategic importance of the region.

Turkey’s energy hub ambitions

Few states in the world are geographically so well positioned as Turkey. The country controls Russia’s only warm water port in the Black Sea and serves as a bridge between east and west. Therefore, during the Cold War Ankara was an indispensable member of NATO. More recently, Turkey has the ambition to become an energy hub for Middle Eastern and Caspian energy. Ankara has had mixed successes in attracting investors and maintaining political stability.

After Israel’s significant discoveries, a U.S. backed initiative presented Turkey as an energy hub. Although a land pipeline is the cheapest option to transport gas from the Mediterranean to Europe, political developments have stalled construction. President Erdogan’s escalating public denunciations of Israel have made Jerusalem look for other options. Furthermore, relations with Europe have also been damaged which would be dependent on Turkey as a transit country.

Egypt as the regional gas hub

Egypt’s has the third largest gas reserves in Africa. Therefore, its export-oriented LNG industry came on-stream in 2004 but was shut mid-2013 due to a lack of resources. The growth of the domestic market demanded ever larger volumes, which went at the expense of exports. Instead, Egypt started importing LNG. However, the discovery of the massive Zohr gas field, the largest in the Eastern Mediterranean, has turned around the situation. Egypt imported its last shipment of LNG in September 2018.

Although relations between Egypt and Israel are far from normal, privately held companies have been able to strike a deal. Starting from the first quarter of 2019, in 10 years 64 bcm worth $10 billion will be delivered. The agreement has stirred controversy in Egypt, which until recently was exporting to Israel. However, with this deal, Cairo comes closer in becoming an energy hub.

The recent signing of another agreement, this time with Nicosia to develop a subsea pipeline from Cyprus’ Aphrodite gas field, has been another important step. Cypriot gas will be pumped 400 miles (645 kilometers) to the south to Egypt’s LNG facilities. Difficult relations with Nicosia’s northern neighbors make a pipeline to the north highly unlikely.

Cairo has been able to act pragmatically concerning its relations with its neighbors such as Israel while taking advantage of the limited amount of options for exporting gas. The obvious winner in this context has been Egypt and its LNG industry. Its chances of becoming the regional energy hub instead of Turkey have significantly increased.

Turkey’s hope for luck

All littoral states of the Eastern Mediterranean struck ‘gold’ in the shape of natural gas except for Turkey. Ankara strongly opposes the exploitation of the gas resources in the exclusive economic zone of the Republic of Cyprus without a sharing agreement with Northern Cyprus’ Turkish inhabitants. The Turkish Navy prevented ships from Italy’s Eni from performing exploratory drilling off the coast of the Republic of Cyprus.

In search of its own luck, Ankara has set up a project to start looking for gas in the EEZ of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is only recognized by Turkey. Kudret Özersay, TRNC deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, proclaimed the desire to turn the TRNC into an energy and electricity hub. However, it seems unlikely that investors will be willing to participate due to political and legal reasons.

The legal situation of the TRNC is an impediment to any major decision involving a longtime commitment worth billions. From an international point of view, the region is de jure part of the Republic of Cyprus, despite holding no control over the region. The TRNC holds no seat in the WTO.

Large investments require solid legal and political support for companies to earn back their investments. The current economic situation of Turkey makes it dependent on foreign money. However, stringent due diligence rules could impede some international banks in lending the necessary funds.

The Eastern Mediterranean Sea basin promises great rewards, but the risks are also high. With Turkey potentially being the only country that doesn’t profit from the gas bonanza, Ankara has acted aggressively to get what it regards as its fair share. However, it faces a united front from the other littoral states of the Eastern Mediterranean. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that Turkey will be able to profit in the same way as Cyprus, Egypt or Israel.

By Vanand Meliksetian for Oilprice.com

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