The al Houthi-Saleh alliance increased attacks on southern Saudi Arabia in what may be an effort to induce Saudi Arabia to negotiate a ceasefire outside of the UN framework. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) are conducting assassination campaigns in Aden to delegitimize the Hadi government.
The surge in al Houthi-Saleh attacks along the Saudi Arabian border may be an effort to make the extension of the Yemeni civil war unsustainable for the Kingdom in order to bring the Saudi government to direct negotiations. Al Houthi fighters increased attacks on Saudi military and civilian targets in July, causing Saudi Arabia to warn that violation of Saudi Arabia’s borders is a “red line.” The uptick follows a six-week pause and coincides with the breakdown of peace negotiations. Al Houthi-Saleh forces struck a Saudi National Guard base in Najran, Saudi Arabia with a ballistic missile on July 19. Al Houthi-Saleh fighters exchanged fire with Saudi border guards near Khabash, Najran province on July 25 and clashed with Saudi soldiers along the Saudi-Yemeni border on July 31, killing at least twelve Saudi soldiers. Al Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam requested direct consultations with Saudi Arabia on July 20, declaring that President Hadi’s representatives at the UN-led peace talks in Kuwait have “no authority.” Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed al Asiri reacted to the increased pressure stating that the border would not factor into a negotiated solution in Yemen.
The al Houthi-Saleh alliance established a new government in Sana’a to replace the al Houthi-led government, which may be the first step in formalizing the recreation of a North Yemen state. The al Houthi political party, Ansar Allah, and the General People’s Congress party, led by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, signed a power-sharing agreement on July 28. The agreement creates a supreme political council with ten representatives from each party and it dissolved the al Houthi Supreme Revolutionary Committee. The UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, denounced the power-sharing agreement on July 28 for violating UN Security Council Resolution 2216, which forbids “unilateral actions.” The al Houthi-Saleh alliance has little incentive to reach a diplomatic compromise at peace talks as long as it controls populous areas of Yemen, including Sana’a.
Al Houthi-Saleh forces are attempting to secure control of the former borders of North Yemen. The al Houthi-Saleh fighters are attempting to seize areas south of Taiz in order to isolate the city and solidify al Houthi-Saleh control over what used to be the North Yemen state. Al Houthi-Saleh fighters seized a forward operating base from Hadi-allied forces in Hayfan district, southern Taiz governorate on July 21 and seized villages in Hayfan district on July 28. Al Houthi leadership and Salafi militias are driving sectarianism in Taiz, which has a mixed population. Al Houthi leader Abu Ali al Hakim proclaimed that “if we lose the battle for Taiz, then we permit the events of Karbala to occur a second time in Sa’ada,” drawing a connection between historic al Houthi territory and the 680 CE battle that deepened the schism between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims. A local Salafi group destroyed an ancient Sufi mosque in Taiz on July 29.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is attacking military and government targets in an effort to delegitimize the Hadi government and position itself as an alternative source of governance in southern Yemen. AQAP militants detonated two simultaneous suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices targeting a Hadi-allied military base in Radfan district, Lahij governorate on August 2, killing at least ten fighters. AQAP militants detonated a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device targeting Aden’s governor and police director in Inma district, Aden city on July 15. AQAP attempted a coordinated artillery attack and amphibious assault on al Mukalla port on August 2, demonstrating its capability to plan sophisticated attacks despite Emirati-led counterterrorism operations in the city. (AQAP statements obtained through SITE.)
Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham cells in Yemen continue to assassinate local leaders in a campaign to destabilize Aden and delegitimize the Hadi government. ISIS Wilayat Aden-Abyan militants detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) that may have targeted the convoy of a Hadi-allied resistance leader in al Mansoura district, Aden city on July 20. (Claim obtained through SITE.) ISIS-affiliated militants assassinated a police investigator with an IED in Sheikh Othman district, Aden city on July 30, according to the pro-ISIS ‘Amaq news agency.
Al Houthi-Saleh forces will probably maintain an increased operational tempo in the Saudi-Yemeni border region, raising domestic pressure on Saudi Arabia to resolve the Yemen conflict. Hadi government-allied forces will resist the al Houthi-Saleh campaign to advance south of Taiz. AQAP and ISIS will continue to target government and security officials in Aden.
Bailey Palmer contributed research to this report.