Yemen, as the poorest country in the Arab world has suffered decades of division and war that led to a fragile peace in 2011 between strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh his deputy deputy Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. In September of 2014 the Houthis took over the capital of Sanaa plunging the nation back into armed conflict.
The Arab Spring earthquake sent shockwaves through the Gulf. The Saudis and Emiratis had already massed billions of dollars in sophisticated weapons, foreign training and intelligence to insulate them from populist uprisings, but the war in Yemen was not just a Shia/Sunni conflict that pushed Ansar Allah (Partisans of God) or the Houthis into the spotlight but it was a war on the border of Saudi Arabia that threatened their image of stability. A coalition of eight other Arab states used mostly air power to restore Hadi’s government. The U.S., UK and France provided logistical and intelligence support as they had done in Libya against Gaddafi.
This was supposed to be a regional war against Iranian-backed Shiites and Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Sunni groups like al Islah but ended up targeting the civilian population of Yemen.
“Their [the mercenaries] host was Mohammed Dahlan, the fearsome former security chief for the Palestinian Authority. In a well-tailored suit, he eyed his mercenary guests coldly.”
Aram Roston, Buzzfeed, 16 October 2018
The Saudis and Emiratis took the lead in this war but quickly learned how poorly equipped mountain fighters can devastate mechanized poorly trained conscripts. The statistics in this tiny war quickly exposed the hubris and incompetence of these thick skinned but thinly trained armies.
Empty PR articles by of all people Jamal Khashoggi about the need to split the Houthis from al Ihsa were not enough to hide the looming disaster. 24 million people were affected, four million were displaced, 100.000 were killed. Spectacular failures like the December 14, 2015 Taiz missile attack on an early morning briefing killed the head of the Saudi military and the UAE contigency also laid waste to 152 soldiers and 40 mercenaries from Colombian and other nations hired to protect them. Videos of Houthi fighters on burning Americans supplied MRAPs directly contradicted official Saudi press briefings on their success. As their traditional forces failed, the Emirati royal famly turned to Dahlan for a solution
Dahlan had been pitched by a PMC called Spear Tactical to create kill teams or Direct Action groups to target and kill the leadership of al Islah. This was a natural evolution of half a dozen kill teams assigned to Yemen by U.S. officials and a Marvel superhero team of oversized mustachioed former SEALs and Delta force retiree. After blowing up a media headquarters and having it videotaped live the story was leaked to the Western media
Al Islah has their roots in tribal affiliation and the first teachers brought from Egypt to Abu Dhabi in the 50’s. Officially the group was founded in 1990, constituting both an ideological and tribal alliance. Once supported by Saudi Arabia against Yemen’s communists, its affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood became a problem for the Gulf monarchies after the Arab Spring, being blacklisted by Saudi Arabia in 2014. However, the party leaders were hosted in Riyadh in 2017 by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.
In 2017 the UAE announced that al Islah had broken with the Muslim Brotherhoo. But just a year later, second meeting was held, this time in Abu Dhabi, in 2018 shortly after some al-Islah leaders were assassinated with Dahlan’s alleged involvement.
The common point between the two monarchies and Islah was that both were fighting against Iran-backed Houthis. Still, Islah was a great fear for the UAE for posing challenge to hereditary monarchies by favoring political Islam. The uneven feature of this relationship reflected itself in the assassination of Islah’s some prominent figures. Aram Roston, in his report for Buzfeed News, wrote that UAE hired American mercenaries to carry out operations in Yemen against Islah cadres together with Dahlan. Sparking outrage across the world, including the demand of probe into the allegations in the US, this operation was realized through Dahlan’s mediation.
Described as UAE’s pit bull by a former CIA official in Roston’s report, Dahlan made the deal with US-based Spear Operations Group, founded by Abraham Golan, a Hungarian-Israeli security contractor.
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