Both the president, who had been in power for a decade, and his vice president, who was also ousted, have fiercely opposed the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels that the Saudi-led coalition is fighting in Yemen.
Why then did the Houthis reject the new presidential council? Analysts say the council signals an attempt to unify the ranks of disparate anti-Houthi groups in anticipation of a period of heightened confrontation.
Shortly after Hadi’s announcement, Saudi Arabia’s state news agency SPA published a video of ruling Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman embracing the new Yemeni council and its leader, Rashad al-Alimi, in the capital Riyadh. The move took place on Saudi soil with Saudi blessing.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates then pledged $3 billion to Yemen, SPA reported on Thursday. The kingdom also announced it would give $300 million to the UN humanitarian aid fund for Yemen and called an aid donor conference to support the war-torn country.
Chief Houthi negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam criticized the move as a sham and a “desperate attempt to restructure the ranks of mercenaries to push them into further escalation.”
“This is advice that was basically made in Saudi Arabia,” said Gregory Johnsen, a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former member of the United Nations Panel of Experts on Yemen.
The eight-member council is a mix of personalities with wildly opposing views on Yemen, and many have “bumped or fought with each other in recent years,” Johnsen told CNN. However, they are united by a common ground: a distaste for the Houthis.
Peter Salisbury, senior Yemen analyst at the International Crisis Group, called the council’s formation “the most significant change in the internal workings of the anti-Houthi bloc since the war began.”
“They [Saudi Arabia] recognized that they need to make a big move to really unify the anti-Houthi coalition,” said Cinzia Bianco, a researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “So this is definitely a gesture towards 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 and voiced their support for the presidential council, as well as launching negotiations with the Iran-aligned Houthis under UN supervision “to reach a final and comprehensive political solution.”
However, Johnsen was skeptical of Saudi Arabia’s ability to unify council members. Many have diametrically opposed views on Yemen, he said.
“Basically, the Saudis are 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 can really impose any kind of unified action or unity of purpose on these groups.”
While there has been talk of a renewed appetite to end the conflict lately, Bianco believes this move portends the opposite.
“We have to recognize that Saudi Arabia expects an escalation in Yemen after the nuclear deal is signed,” Bianco said. “Saudi Arabia is trying to do everything possible … to be more prepared to face an escalation on several regional fronts led by an emboldened Iran.”
Johnsen said it is hard to say whether the shakeup was “a step forward or a step back” in the quest for peace in Yemen. “It’s hard to imagine Yemen ever coming back together as a single state,” she said.
Other highlights from the Middle East
Turkey’s foreign minister says Blinken invited him to first talks in three years
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Thursday that his US counterpart Antony Blinken had invited him for talks on May 18, the first in three years.
- Bottom: Turkey and the United States have recently taken steps to mend their strained relations, this week launching a joint mechanism to boost cooperation after years of tension on a range of issues, including relations with Russia and policies in Syria and Libya. The United States previously sanctioned Turkey’s defense industry after Ankara bought weapons from Russia and then kicked it out of its F-35 fighter jet program.
- why does it matters: Turkey is now at the forefront as the Russian invasion of Ukraine turns increasingly violent. The NATO member shares a border with both countries on the Black Sea and has been acting as a mediator between Russia and the West as global powers try to de-escalate the conflict. In a letter to Congress, the US State Department said Wednesday that 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 to return to Beirut, sign of better relations
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Yemen said on Thursday they would bring their ambassadors back to Lebanon, signaling better ties after relations between Beirut and some Gulf states soured.
- Bottom: Ties between Lebanon and some Arab states have been strained for years due to the growing influence of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement. Relations hit rock bottom last year after a former Lebanese minister bluntly criticized Saudi Arabia and the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, and spoke in support of Iran-aligned Houthi rebels. Saudi Arabia and its allies later withdrew their envoys from Beirut.
- why does it matter: Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbors were once key donors to Lebanon, which in the past two years has been hit by its worst financial crisis and what the World Bank described as one of the deepest depressions ever recorded. As Lebanon works to recover, improving relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf could also win back their support.
Palestinian gunman killed after two killed and many wounded in Tel Aviv shooting
The gunman who carried out an attack on a bar in Tel Aviv, which killed two people and wounded many, has died after an exchange of fire with Israeli police, authorities say.
- Bottom: Two Israeli men were killed in Thursday’s attack in central Tel Aviv. Several other people were seriously injured. The shooting was claimed by the Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and praised by Hamas. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas expressed condemnation of him.
- why does it matter: The attack is the latest in a series of violent incidents that have unnerved Israel and the Palestinian territories. In just one week in March, 11 people were killed in three attacks on Israeli towns and cities. It was the deadliest week Israel had seen in years and follows weeks of rising tensions that saw Israelis stabbed to death and several Palestinians 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 see
As the war in Ukraine hits Lebanon’s food reserves, its finance minister, Amin Salam, tells CNN’s Becky Anderson that the country is “struggling” to find alternatives for staples.
“Lebanon, apart from the crisis itself, has not yet recovered from all the global inflation of food, raw materials and food products after COVID-19,” Salam said. “Now we have this problem that adds another layer of difficulty.”
Watch the interview here.
around the region
The interview with billionaire businesswoman Lubna Olayan, 66, had people praising her modesty and outspokenness on social media.
Olayan, who has been labeled one of the most powerful women in the world, 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 me, this is enough…any more is a headache.” . He declined to say how much the company, which is privately owned, is worth.
As the matriarch of one of Saudi Arabia’s wealthiest families, she has kept a low profile but managed to push boundaries and break glass ceilings. She has been a champion of women’s freedoms and appeared at public events without a head covering long before Saudi Arabia relaxed its strict dress codes for women. In 2019, she became the first woman to head a Saudi bank.
She also told stories about her formative years at university in Beirut and the US, her family’s blending with the global business elite, and her taboo-busting marriage to an American man in 1981. Her father was a pushover, he said, but it took his four years to convince his mother. “He’s my best friend,” she said of her husband John Xefos.
By Abbas Al Lawati
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