Gulf Cooperation Council conditionally accepts talks with Houthis

Gulf Cooperation Council conditionally accepts talks with Houthis
Analysis: The council wants the Houthis to walk back their takeover of the Yemeni state in exchange for a seat at the table in talks on the future of Yemen.
5 min read
14 March, 2015
Houthi fighters are conducting military exercises near the Saudi border [Anadolu]

The Gulf Cooperation Council has sent a clear message to the Ansar Allah movement (better known as the Houthis) that it is willing to enter into a dialogue with it if it ends what the council termed the coup against the Yemeni state.

GCC states also pointedly warned they have the capabilities necessary to protect their borders and sovereignty in the wake of the Houthis’ announcement of "extensive" military exercises along the border with Saudi Arabia.

Yemen topped the agenda of the GCC foreign ministers' meeting in Riyadh Thursday. At the conclusion of the meeting, Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah said the dialogue the GCC is scheduled to sponsor, in accordance with the Yemeni president's wishes, is open to all parties in Yemen without exception, including the Houthis. It is a message from the Gulf offering the Houthis a chance for political participation and to overcome their designation by Riyadh and the UAE as a "terrorist" group.

The invitation to the dialogue is an attempt to lure them to the table of a dialogue sponsored by states opposed to the Houthis' project.

Just as the invitation to the dialogue breaks the Gulf-imposed political embargo on the Houthis, it is an attempt to lure them to the table of a dialogue sponsored by states opposed to the Houthis' project. The outcome of the Riyadh dialogue is not likely to endorse the group's coup, but rather is to consider the Houthis as just another political element. Boosting this conviction, GCC Secretary General Abdullatif al-Zayyani reiterated the goals defined in the letter Hadi addressed to Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz. Hadi called for adherence to legitimacy, restoring the Yemeni state's control, handing over the stolen weapons to the state and preserving the security and stability of Yemen.

No response yet

No Yemeni party has responded yet to the invitation to the Riyadh dialogue. It was noteworthy that the group did not turn down the invitation officially, although its leadership made a statement implying it did so. For its part, the General People's Congress (GPC), led by former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, declined to either reject or accept the invitation. The GPC does not accept Hadi as the legitimate president.

Considering the facts of the Yemeni situation, the crisis in the situation in Yemen is not in whether the Riyadh dialogue is accepted or rejected, but rather in the situation on the ground, which is expected to worsen in the absence of a balance that guarantees the implementation of any agreement.

The Houthi movement preempted the launch of the GCC foreign ministers' meeting by announcing it plans to conduct "extensive" military exercises along the borders of Saudi Arabia. According to sources close to the group, the Houthis have for days been preparing for a military exercise in which they will use medium and heavy calibre weapons the group had seized. The military exercises will take place in the Saada Governorate, the group's stronghold along the border with Saudi Arabia, where six wars took place between the group and the government forces between 2004 and 2010. The Saudi Army was involved in the last round against the Houthis in late 2009.

A local source in the Kitaf area on the border with Saudi Arabia told al-Araby al-Jadeed that "the Houthis are extensively deployed, aboard military vehicles and tanks, in the al-Wadi area, where they had started to amass forces almost one week ago. The source said that as of yesterday afternoon, no military exercises had been observed.

The Houthis have an arsenal of weapons, which they have seized in stages from the Yemeni Army's depots in the Sixth Military Zone during the Saada wars.

Some say it is not unlikely that the planned Houthi exercises in Saada are a cover for preparations for a war in Yemeni areas far from the borders, whether in the oil-rich Maareb Governorate in the center of Yemen, where they have so far been unable to gain a foothold, or in the southern Governorate of Aden, Hadi's stronghold.

Aden is currently witnessing a rebellion by the commander of the Special Security commander, said to be an associate of the Houthis and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Escalating rhetoric

This development was preceded by a direct escalation in the Houthis' rhetoric against Saudi Arabia after their policies failed throughout the past two years to reassure Riyadh, which considers them an extension of Iraniaan power in its backyard and added them to its list of proscribed terrorist organisations.

The Houthis' attempts to allay Saudi fears came to an end after Hadi's departure from Sanaa, which Riyadh supported. Abdul-Malik al-Houthi gave a speech in which he directly accused the kingdom of aiding sabotage and al-Qaeda in the country.

The Houthis cannot at present carry out any military action that could encroach upon the sovereignty of Saudi Arabia.
- Ali al-Dhahab

No matter how large the arsenal of weapons the Houthis have, observers believe it is not big enough to confront the Saudi Army, or even drag it into a war. This is especially true since their domestic front is not in good shape and their presence in the governorates they occupied remains at stake.

Ali al-Dhahab, a researcher in armed conflict affairs, told al-Araby that the group's plan to conduct a military exercise in Saada along the borders with Saudi Arabia "coincides with leaks indicating there is an intensive effort to complete the equipping and inauguration of its airport, which might have runways for various types of warplanes."

He said: "Whoever monitors such news can come to the conclusion that it is part of the Houthis' media propaganda, involving specific messages to Saudi Arabia, as part of a psychological warfare to influence its stance toward Hadi. Such acts came as a reaction to that stance, not as part of training previously scheduled by the Defence Ministry."

Dhahab added: "The Houthis cannot at present carry out any military action that could encroach upon the sovereignty and security of Saudi Arabia, because of internal and external considerations, especially with regard to the situation of the army. The Houthis are also aware of how dangerous this could be to their future."

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.