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Sana Uqba

Yemen in Focus: Hizballah official reveals secret UAE-Houthi communication

The Saudi-led coalition has been battling Houthi rebels since 2015 [Getty]

Date of publication: 26 July, 2019

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This week we look at alleged Houthi-Emirati channels of communication, a fundraiser for Hizballah, hope from the UN and more Trump vetoes.

Yemen's Houthis have allegedly had secret channels of communication with the United Arab Emirates, a leading member of the military coalition battling the rebels in the country, according to an official from the Lebanese Hizballah movement.

The rebels are conducting several meetings with Emirati officials, Naeem Qassem, the Deputy Secretary General of Hizballah said in an interview with Al-Mayadeen.

"There are meetings between officials from the UAE and officials of the Houthis to organise subsequent steps in the Emirati withdrawal from Yemen," Qassem said.

The comments came after the UAE announced a drawdown and redeployment of Emirati forces in the war-torn country, where it has been fighting alongside other members of the Saudi-led coalition and pro-government militias since 2015.

"The UAE was an integral part of the war on Yemen, but we learned that there are strong differences between the ruler of Dubai and the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed and Mohammed bin Rashid, the latter of which has suffered economically," Qassem said.

The UAE was an integral part of the war on Yemen, but we learned that there are strong differences between the ruler of Dubai and the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed and Mohammed bin Rashid, the latter of which has suffered economically

"The deterioration of the economy, a large drainage of money in the war and Emirati human losses without bearing much fruit has led to the gradual withdrawal," the Hizballah official added. 

"Any action related to the withdrawal on the ground must be a process of communication, albeit confidential and sometimes by means of agreement to some of the steps, but are there contacts in this regard between the UAE and Iran? 

"My knowledge is that there is dialogue, discussion, and normal diplomatic contacts between Iran and the UAE. This has not stopped, and even the intelligence services are communicating with each other," Qassem added.

The existence of communication between the two warring parties was confirmed by a Houthi official who said rebel media have ceased to brand the UAE as a member of the war in Yemen, according to an interview with TRT.

Earlier this week, a UAE minister said the country's forces are not leaving war-torn Yemen despite an ongoing drawdown and redeployment of Emirati forces. 

"Just to be clear, the UAE and the rest of the coalition are not leaving Yemen," minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash said in an opinion piece published Monday in The Washington Post.

"While we will operate differently, our military presence will remain. In accordance with international law, we will continue to advise and assist local Yemen forces." 

Gargash said the Houthis should see the UAE move as a "confidence-building measure to create new momentum to end the conflict".

"As the United Arab Emirates draws down and redeploys its forces in Yemen, we do so in the same way we began – with eyes wide open," he said. 

"There was no easy victory and there will be no easy peace. But now is the time to double down on the political process." 

There was no easy victory and there will be no easy peace. But now is the time to double down on the political process

Fundraising for Hizballah

But the Houthi's diplomacy has seemingly reached further than the UAE this week, with reports suggesting the rebel movement raised some $300,000 for its Lebanese ally Hizballah, prompting a backlash from Yemenis on Twitter who questioned the rebel group's priorities.

The Houthis, also known by their official political party Ansarallah, announced they had raised the funds in a video posted on Twitter that showed three men from the radio station Sam FM chant in praise of the Lebanese group in front of bundles of cash.

 "From Yemen, the faith to Lebanon's resistance, salute to the well-being of Yemen," the three men chant.

The video sparked outrage among Yemeni social media users who criticised the Houthis for fundraising for an outside cause while overlooking millions of starving civilians in their own country.

Hizballah and the Houthi rebels both enjoy backing from Iran.

The war in Yemen exacerbated in March 2015 when a Saudi-Emirati led coalition intervened to reinstate the internationally-recognised government of Yemen after the rebels overran the capital and other major cities.

The conflict, which has remained at a stalemate for more than four years, has pushed the country to the brink of famine.

The video sparked outrage among Yemeni social media users who criticised the Houthis for fundraising for an outside cause while overlooking millions of starving civilians in their own country

High hopes

But the UN envoy to Yemen had high hopes this week saying the deadly conflict in the war-torn country could still be stopped because warring sides still support a UN peace deal brokered in Stockholm last December.

In comments made to reporters in Geneva on Tuesday, Martin Griffiths said he believes "this war in Yemen is eminently resolvable".

"Both parties continue to insist that they want a political solution and the military solution is not available. They remain committed to the Stockholm agreement in all its different aspects."

However, Griffiths admitted the Stockholm agreement was taking some time to be implemented, though claimed both sides saw it as a gateway to opening up negotiations on a political solution.

Earlier this month, Griffiths said he held "productive" talks with the Saudi deputy defence minister aimed at bolstering a ceasefire agreement for Yemen.

"We discussed how to keep Yemen out of the regional tensions, make progress in the implementation of the Stockholm agreement (and Saudi Arabia's) support to the peace process," Griffiths wrote on Twitter.

The meeting with Prince Khaled bin Salman came as representatives from Yemen's Saudi-backed government and Houthi rebels held talks on a UN vessel off the Yemeni coast to try to de-escalate tensions.

The hard-won truce agreement reached late last year in Sweden called on the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels to pull forces out of the key port of Hodeida and parts of the city.

On Monday, at the end of two days of talks, the first since February, a committee set up under the Sweden accord, also known as the Stockholm agreement, said it had agreed on "a mechanism and new measures to reinforce the ceasefire".

The mechanism would be put in place as soon as possible with support from the UN which is part of the committee along with representatives of the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels, a statement said.

More Trump vetoes

Despite the new lines of communication between warring factions and the UN envoy's hope in finding a solution, the US seemed far behind.

US President Donald Trump yet again vetoed three congressional resolutions barring billions of dollars in weapons sales to countries including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday.

The resolutions "would weaken America's global competitiveness and damage the important relationships we share with our allies and partners," Trump said in letters to the Senate justifying blocking them.

It is the third time the president has employed his veto power since taking office.

The measures cleared Congress this month in a strong rebuke to Trump, whose administration took the extraordinary step of bypassing legislators to approve the sales in May.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said the administration was responding to an emergency caused by Saudi Arabia's arch-foe Iran.

But lawmakers including some Senate Republicans said there were no legitimate grounds to circumvent Congress, which has the right to disapprove arms sales.

Senator Lindsey Graham delivered a stinging rebuke to Riyadh last month, saying he hoped his vote against the sales would "send a signal to Saudi Arabia that if you act the way you're acting, there is no space for a strategic relationship."

The senator was referring to last year's brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey at the hands of Saudi agents, an incident that outraged lawmakers and triggered a full-blown crisis in Riyadh's relations with the West.

Critics also say the arms sales would aggravate the war in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is leading a US-backed coalition that also includes the UAE in a battle against the Iranian-supported Houthi rebels.

Sana Uqba is a journalist at The New Arab. 

Follow her on Twitter: @Sanasiino 

Yemen In Focus is a new, regular feature from The New Arab.

Click below to see the full archive.

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