Hodeidah (GPA) – Mainstream media outlets have spent the last month or so hyping up the importance of Hodeidah in Yemen. Forces backed by the U.S.-Saudi-U.A.E. coalition have an intense offensive planned to take territory from Yemen’s Army and Popular Committees, Ansarullah.
But what’s the big deal about Hodeidah? Well, a whole lot actually. So much that imperial powers are willing to risk up to 600,000 civilian deaths to flex their power.
For over the past three years, mainstream media outlets have failed to adequately document the true civilian costs of the U.S.-Saudi-U.A.E. invasion of Yemen. These outlets remain virtually silent about the roots of the conflict and the extent of Washington’s involvement. In fact, they’ve been all but silent when they aren’t peddling Iran-phobic propaganda.
For the past few weeks, however, mainstream media hasn’t shut up about the importance of Hodeidah port. It’s true that the humanitarian aspect deserves plenty of coverage, but the geopolitical importance of this strategic location cannot be stressed enough as well.
Saudi Arabia Needs to Show They’re Worth a Damn
Saudi Arabia’s objectives in Yemen haven’t just failed — they’ve completely backfired. The Saudis absolutely need Hodeidah to work out in their favor if for no other reason but to save face from international embarrassment.
Riyadh launched this war in March of 2015 to ensure their political puppet, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, remained in power. Its second goal was to stamp out the growing grassroots anti-imperialist resistance movement, Ansarullah (or as MSM simply calls them, “the Houthis”). Its third and — least talked about — goal included expanding regional influence and showing off their military might: something they weren’t able to do openly in Syria and Libya.
Anyone paying even half attention to Yemen knows that the Saudis definitely aren’t winning in any respect.
Yemen’s Resistance Movement is Politically Stronger and Battle-tested
Yemen’s resistance movement, Ansarullah, now controls over 100 miles beyond the Saudi border. The Army and Popular Committees have expanded their operations here in retaliation for the ongoing airstrike campaign against civilians and devastating blockade. The so-called Houthis have also expanded their political influence and now completely control the capital, Sana’a.
To top it off, Ansarullah can manufacture domestic long and short-range ballistic missiles like never before. They’ve also developed weaponized unmanned drones, surveillance drones, anti-aircraft weapons, and naval missiles while improving their special forces. And now they’re battle-tested.
Read more about Yemen’s domestic defense program:
Riyadh has Lost Political and Military Influence to Abu Dhabi
This war was supposed to be Saudi Arabia’s chance to exert its influence in Yemen — and possibly the region. What’s happened to Riyadh in Yemen is the colonialist equivalent of your wingman stealing the girl you’ve played up all night at the bar.
The United Arab Emirates has used the past three years to forge political alliances throughout Yemen’s southern provinces which has created a sore spot between the two Gulf kingdoms. Saudi Arabia’s puppet, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, currently resides in Riyadh while the Emiratis have thrown their weight behind various leaders across the south.
These disagreements haven’t passed without confrontation. Saudi and U.A.E.-backed mercenaries frequently fight each other in the southern provinces. Although reporting from the remote island is scarce, it appears that Riyadh and Abu Dhabi recently faced-off for control of Socotra with both countries surging troops and heavy artillery.
The United Arab Emirates Wants to Solidify Its Growing Regional Influence
Abu Dhabi has used their invasion of Yemen as a springboard to expand their influence throughout the Arabian Penninsula and the broader region.
For one thing, the United Arab Emirates is currently carrying out a military occupation across Yemen’s southern provinces. While their activities are largely secret, the Emiratis have successfully militarized the Yemeni island of Socotra. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this strategic island sits off the coast of Somalia: the perfect location to monitor the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
The expanding Emirati influence across the Horn of Africa is also largely undiscussed. In the past few years, Abu Dhabi has secured bases in Eritrea, Somaliland, Djibouti, and the semi-autonomous region of Puntland. Djibouti has become a cold battleground in itself recently, as the U.S., China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Italy, Spain, France, and Japan all have bases or troops stationed here.
Abu Dhabi has also managed to occupy the crucial and geopolitically significant Bab el-Mandeb Strait — with help from the United States of course. (More on that below.) This — along with hosting U.S. troops and training under their command — has allowed the Emiratis to solidify their place in Washington’s imperialist heart.
Read more about Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in Yemen:
The United States Wants Control Over Global Capital
Yemen’s location is extremely strategic in itself. At the bottom of the Arabian Penninsula, Yemen provides 1,200 miles of coastline along the Arabian Ocean and Gulf of Aden. The real value, however, lies in the islands under Yemeni territory.
The Bab el-Mandeb Strait falls within Yemen’s territorial waters and its importance cannot be stressed enough. The Red Sea’s Hanish Islands and Bab al Mandeb Strait are strategic waterways for both military surveillance and economic control. Four million barrels of oil and other hydrocarbon products pass through this chokepoint each day on their way to the Suez Canal and ultimately to Europe and beyond.
Anyone controlling the Bab el-Mandeb and Hanish Islands has the capacity to control large swaths of global capital. Fortunately for the United States, their allies control both.
The U.S. has also likely benefited from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates blatantly stealing Yemen’s oil. Although civilians remain impoverished, this small country contains vast — and untapped — oil reserves.
Read more about U.S. imperialism in Yemen:
Southern Yemenis Want to Distance Themselves from the Coalition Powers
Speaking to the media, the Saudis and Emiratis try to portray a united front against Yemen’s Ansarullah (the “Houthis”). The situation on the ground, meanwhile, tells a much different story.
Unlike resistance-held territory in the north, the south experiences frequent (and often bloody) infighting among different factions all fighting under the “Saudi coalition” banner. Leaving al-Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood out of the scenario — both also fighting on the coalition’s side — for a second, the growing Southern Movement could throw a wild card into the game.
The Southern Movement (or al-Hirak) is a separatist movement that wishes to see Yemen split into North and South again. Prior to the war, the movement had substantial grassroots support throughout southern provinces. Now, however, Abu Dhabi has attached its horse to this carriage so the movement largely acts as a vessel for Emirati (and ultimately U.S.) influence in Yemen.
The United Arab Emirates pays salaries to mercenaries fighting under their command. This includes fighters under the Southern Movement’s banner as well as some portions of the military and other lesser known brigades. Despite admitting to taking orders from the Americans and Emiratis, these Yemeni forces have already advanced onto Hodeidah on some fronts — moving directly against orders.
Although it isn’t clear which brigades have disobeyed their masters’ orders, this could set a precedent for entities like the Southern Movement who would probably like to distance themselves from the coalition forces at some point. Local Yemenis in the south have grown weary of chronic U.A.E. occupation. In places like Socotra, Abu Dhabi has even begun conducting censuses as a precursor to bringing the island into the Emirates.
It is, however, difficult to turn down hefty salaries and unlimited weapons — even if the cost is an occupation and political control.
Yemen’s Sana’a Government Wants to Maintain Control of Their Only Port in Hodeidah
Ansarullah aka “the Houthis” currently control the capital city, Sana’a, as well as most northern provinces. Their Army and Popular Committees have spent the last three years honing their military skills and are now a force to be reckoned with.
This battle is life or death for the anti-imperialist resistance movement. Losing this port means becoming entirely landlocked with only strongholds in the capital, Sana’a, and Saada — the movement’s birthplace.
Ansarullah will not give up this port without a fight. Previous UN-sponsored negotiations for the port have attempted to persuade Ansarullah forces to hand over control of Hodeidah to a “neutral” party. This isn’t ideal considering that Saudi Arabia’s influence dominates any possible “neutral” party like the United Nations. Plus, the UN has used this deadly situation as an opportunity to coax Yemen into giving up its prized domestically developed ballistic missiles. This conversation does not, of course, involve the Saudi coalition giving up its weapons in any form.
The United Arab Emirates is so insecure about fighting Ansarullah that they have appealed to the United States to send as much help as possible — likely in the form of air support or even more ground troops.
Yemen’s Army and Popular Committees have made it clear that they’re prepared to do what they have to do to keep foreign fighters out of their country. Various political figures and military leaders warn that an attack on Hodeidah from the Saudi-led coalition is considered a red line. Any advance on the port will receive a swift response. This may include naval missiles launched at economic targets like ships passing through the Bab el-Mandeb or long-range ballistic missile attacks targeting economic targets in the U.A.E. or Saudi Arabia.
“We could target Saudi oil tankers should Saudi Arabia attack Yemen’s main port of Al-Hodeidah,” Sayyed Abdulmalik warned, “The Saudi oil facilities from today are targets to our ballistic missiles.”
Read more about Ansarullah in Yemen:
Civilian Equivalent of 66 Mosuls: Millions of Yemeni Civilians Risk Famine and Disease
At the end of the day, anywhere from 250,000 and 600,000 people could die if the U.S.-backed Saudi and Emirati coalition choose to advance on Hodeidah. And these numbers only reflect civilian casualties from military confrontation and airstrikes.
This city is one of the most heavily populated areas in the country. Not to mention, millions of Yemenis rely on this port for vital aid like food and medical supplies. A coalition offensive on the port would put more than 22 million people at risk for famine and disease like cholera. Leading up to the offensive, Saudi warplanes bombed a Doctors Without Borders facility in neighboring Hajjah province triggering a withdrawal of the organization as well as Red Cross affiliates.
The Saudi-imposed puppet president Hadi is currently in the United Arab Emirates today to discuss the Hodeidah offensive with the foreign minister. The United Nations has already removed staff from the city claiming diplomatic efforts have failed.
“We are, at the present moment, in intense consultation,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters on Monday. “I hope that it will be possible to avoid a battle for Hodeidah.”
A decision could be made any minute now and it isn’t clear to what extent the United States will be involved. Increased U.S. airstrikes are possible. Since Congress is growing tired of U.S. involvement in Yemen, Washington could bypass their minimal efforts to slow the war by adding Ansarullah to the foreign terrorist list and expanding their “War on Terror” targets.
Experts, activists, and especially Yemenis are urging and hoping the coalition does not continue their advance because it’s sure to be a disaster no matter the outcome.
All images courtesy Ansarullah Media Center unless otherwise noted.
Founder and editor of Geopolitics Alert, Randi is an American geopolitical analyst and content strategist. She covers US imperialism with a special focus on Yemen and Lebanon.