Yemen, 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 and his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. In September 2014, the Houthis took over the capital of Sanaa, plunging the nation back into armed conflict.

The Arab Spring 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. However, 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 rather it was a war on the border of Saudi Arabia that threatened their image of stability. A coalition of eight other Arab states, mostly through air power, restored Hadi’s government. The US, 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

MBZ, MBS and Islah chairman Colonel Mohammed Abdullah Al Yidoumi (R) in Riyadh on December 13, 2017.
Mohammed bin Zayed met with Mohammad Abdullah al-Yadomi, the president of the al-Islah's supreme council, and Abdulwahab al-Ansi, the party's secretary general in Abu Dhabi in 2018
Dahlan and Golan.

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 of this conflict soon exposed the hubris and incompetence of these thick-skinned but thinly trained armies.

Empty PR articles by all people, even by Jamal Khashoggi, about the need to split the Houthis from al Islah were not enough to hide the looming disaster. Some 24 million people were affected, four million displaced, and 100,000 killed. Spectacular failures exemplified by the likes of the 14 December 2015 Taiz missile attack killed the head of the Saudi military, the UAE contingency, and also laid waste to 152 soldiers and 40 mercenaries from Colombian and other nations hired to protect them. Videos of Houthi fighters standing on burnout American supplied MRAPs directly contradicted official Saudi press briefings on their success. As their traditional forces failed, the Emirati royal family 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 US officials and a Marvel superhero team of oversized mustachioed former SEALs and Delta force retirees. After blowing up the headquarters of a media, which was recorded in a live video, the story was leaked to the Western media.

Al Islah has its roots in tribal affiliation and was the first teacher brought from Egypt to Abu Dhabi in the 1950s. 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. Subsequently was blacklisted by Saudi Arabia in 2014. However, the party leaders were hosted in Riyadh in 2017 by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed.

In 2017, the UAE announced that al Islah had broken with the Muslim Brotherhood. A year later, a second meeting was held, this time in Abu Dhabi, after which some al Islah leaders were assassinated with Dahlan’s alleged involvement.

The common point between the two monarchies and al Islah was that both were fighting against Iran-backed Houthis. Nonetheless, al Islah posed a risk for the UAE by constituting a challenge to hereditary monarchies by favoring political Islam. Aram Roston, in his report for Buzzfeed News, wrote that UAE hired American mercenaries to carry out operations in Yemen against al Islah cadres together with Dahlan. Sparking outrage across the world, including the demand for a probe into the allegations in the US, this operation was realized through Dahlan’s mediation.

Described as UAE’s pitbull 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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