Both the president, who had been in power for a decade, and his vice president, who was also impeached, have been fiercely opposed by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels fighting the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
Then why did the Houthis reject the new presidential council? Analysts say the council signals an effort to unite the ranks of disparate anti-Houthi groups ahead of a period of increasing confrontation.
Shortly after Hadi’s announcement, Saudi Arabia’s state-run news agency SPA released a video of factor ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman embracing the new Yemeni council and its head, Rashad al-Alimi, in the capital Riyadh. The move took place on Saudi soil with Saudi blessing.
Subsequently, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates pledged $3 billion to Yemen, SPA reported Thursday. The kingdom also announced it is giving $300 million to the UN humanitarian aid fund to Yemen and called for a donor conference to support the war-torn country.
Houthi chief negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam criticized the move as a farce and a “desperate attempt to restructure the ranks of mercenaries to push them toward further escalation.”
“This is a council that was basically created in Saudi Arabia,” said Gregory Johnsen, a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution and former member of the United Nations Panel of Experts on Yemen.
The eight-member council is a hodgepodge of personalities with strongly opposing views on Yemen, and many have “fought or fought each other in recent years,” Johnsen told DailyExpertNews. However, one common ground unites them: an aversion to the Houthis.
Peter Salisbury, Yemen’s senior analyst at International Crisis Group, called the council’s formation the “most profound change in the inner workings of the anti-Houthi bloc since the start of the war”.
“She [Saudi Arabia] recognized that they need to take a very big step to really unite the anti-Houthi coalition,” said Cinzia Bianco, a research associate at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “So this is definitely a gesture to the Houthis, to show that the anti-Houthi front, which has long been very, very divided and fragmented, is looking for a new, second life.”
Gulf Cooperation Council ministers met on Thursday to express their support for the presidential council, as well as for starting negotiations with the Iran-affiliated Houthis under the auspices of the UN “to arrive at a final and comprehensive political solution.” .
Johnsen, however, was skeptical of Saudi Arabia’s ability to unite the councilors. Many have diametrically opposed views about Yemen, he said.
“The Saudis are basically trying to get everyone back on the same page,” Johnsen added. “But I think the genie is out of the bottle and I don’t think Saudi Arabia will be able to really impose any kind of united action or unity of purpose on these groups.”
While there has been a renewed appetite of late to end the conflict, Bianco believes this move portends the opposite.
“We must recognize that Saudi Arabia expects an escalation in Yemen after the nuclear deal is signed,” Bianco said. “Saudi Arabia is trying to do everything they can… to be better prepared for an escalation on several regional fronts led by an emboldened Iran.”
Johnsen said it is difficult to say whether the commotion was “a step forward or a step back” in the quest for peace in Yemen. “It is hard to imagine Yemen being reunited as a single state,” he said.
Other top news from the Middle East
Turkish Foreign Minister says Blinken has invited him to the first talks in three years
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday that his US counterpart Antony Blinken invited him to talks on May 18, the first in three years.
- BackgroundTurkey and the United States have recently taken steps to restore their tense relations and this week launched a joint mechanism to strengthen cooperation after years of tension over a number of issues, including relations with Russia and policies in Syria and Libya. The US has previously sanctioned Turkey’s defense industry after Ankara bought weapons from Russia and later expelled it from its F-35 fighter jet program.
- Why it is importants: Turkey is now at the forefront as the Russian invasion of Ukraine becomes increasingly violent. The NATO member shares a border with both countries in the Black Sea and acts as a mediator between Russia and the West as world powers try to de-escalate the conflict. In a letter to Congress on Wednesday, the US State Department said the Biden administration believes a possible sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey would be in line with US and NATO interests.
Three Arab envoys return to Beirut, signaling improved relations
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Yemen said Thursday they are returning their ambassadors to Lebanon, suggesting improved ties after relations between Beirut and some Gulf states deteriorated.
- Background: Ties between Lebanon and some Arab states have been tense for years due to the growing influence of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement. Last year, relations hit rock bottom after a former Lebanese minister flatly criticized Saudi Arabia and the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen and spoke in support of Iran-affiliated Houthi rebels. Saudi Arabia and its allies later recalled their envoys from Beirut.
- Why it matters: Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbors were once major donors to Lebanon, which has been hit by its worst financial crisis in the past two years and what the World Bank described as one of the sharpest depressions on record. As Lebanon tries to get itself back on track, improved relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf could also bring back their support.
Palestinian gunman killed after two killed and many injured in Tel Aviv shooting
The gunman who attacked a bar in Tel Aviv that killed two and injured many has died after a gun battle with Israeli police, officials say.
- Background: Two Israeli men were killed in Thursday’s attack in central Tel Aviv. Several more people were seriously injured. The shooting was claimed by the Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and praised by Hamas. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas expressed his condemnation.
- Why it matters: The attack is the latest in a series of violent incidents that have left Israel and the Palestinian territories on edge. In just one week in March, 11 people were killed in three attacks in Israeli cities. It was the deadliest week Israel had seen in years and follows weeks of mounting tensions in which Israelis were targeted in stabbing attacks and several Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli forces in the West Bank. The latest attack coincides with the month of Ramadan and the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover.
what to watch
As the war in Ukraine hits Lebanon’s food reserves, economy minister Amin Salam tells DailyExpertNews’s Becky Anderson that the country is “struggling” to find alternatives to raw materials.
“Lebanon, in addition to the crisis itself, has not yet recovered from all the global inflation on food, commodities and food products after Covid-19,” Salam said. “Now we have this problem that adds an extra level of difficulty.”
Watch the interview here.
Around the region
In the interview with billionaire businesswoman Lubna Olayan, 66, people praised her modesty and candor on social media.
Olayan, who has been labeled one of the world’s most powerful women, sat down with Saudi journalist Abdullah Al Mudaifer to shed light on her personal life, her family and her vast business empire, the Olayan Group.
When asked by the interviewer why she lives in a modest house, she said, “Do I need more? I have everything I need in this house. For my husband and I, this is enough… more is a headache.” She declined to say how much the privately owned company is worth.
As the matriarch of one of Saudi Arabia’s wealthiest families, she remained stealthy but managed to push boundaries and break glass ceilings. She was an advocate for women’s freedoms and would appear without a headgear at public events long before Saudi Arabia relaxed its strict dress code for women. In 2019, she became the first woman to run a Saudi bank.
She also shared stories of her formative years at university in Beirut and the US, her family’s association with the world’s business elite, and her taboo-breaking marriage to an American man in 1981. Her father was easy to convince, she said, but the took her four years to convince her mother. “He’s my best friend,” she said of her husband John Xefos.
By Abbas Al Lawati
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