The invasion of Yemen has become Saudi Arabia’s Vietnam -for some time now. The Saudi-led coalition has failed to achieve a military victory over the Ansar Allah movement, more widely known as the Houthis. Furthermore, the coalition has started shrinking itself with more and more tensions within coalition member states and coalition-backed groups coming to light.
After the coalition’s failure to capture the port city of al-Hudaydah in the summer of 2018, northwestern Yemen and southwestern Saudi Arabia became the main areas of hostilities between Ansar Allah and coalition-backed forces. Additionally, Ansar Alalh successfully conducts drone and missile strikes on key installations in southern Saudi Arabia. These attacks, as well as constant border raids, are slowly moving the war from the territory of Yemen to that of the Kingdom.
On August 17, Ansar Allah launched 10 suicide drones on the Shaybah super-giant oil field in southeastern Saudi Arabia, in what was described as the biggest aerial operation by the Yemeni movement to date.
The attack, dubbed Operation Deterrent Balance 1, targeted the oil field’s wells and its main refinery. A spokesman for the Yemeni Armed Forces and Ansar Allah, Brig. Gen. Yahya Sari, said that the strike came “within the framework of deterrence and legitimate response to the crimes of the aggression and the siege on the Yemeni people”. He warned the coalition that the Yemeni forces’ bank of targets is “expanding day by day.”
Located near the border with the UAE, the Shaybah is one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest oil fields. The field produces up to 1,000,000 barrels per day. The Saudi side confirmed the attack, but claimed that it only caused “slight damage” and only to the oilfield’s gas station.
Late on August 16, Ansar Allah launched several Qasef-2K suicide unmanned aerial vehicles at Abha International Airport in southern Saudi Arabia. According to Brig. Gen. Sari, the strike hit “sensitive military targets” inside the airport. In the last two months, Abha International Airport was targeted dozens of times with suicide drones and even with a cruise missile.
At the same time, the Saudi-led coalition is facing significant difficulties in the Yemeni port city of Aden, which it calls a “temporary capital” of Yemen. On August 10, the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC) seized a presidential palace and most of the military facilities in Aden from forces loyal to the Saudi-backed ‘Yemeni President’ Mansur Hadi.
Clashes in Aden started on August 7 after the STC announced a “general mobilization” and called on its supporters to overthrow the Aden-based Saudi-backed government. The clashes claimed the lives of more than 40 people and injured 260 others until the Saudi Air Force carried out a warning strike and informed the STC that its forces will be bombed if they refuse to return to the negotiation table. On August 11, pro-coalition sources claimed that STC would withdraw from the captured positions and return to negotiations with the Hadi government. However, by August 18, it appeared that the STC was not going to withdraw from captured positions in Aden. STC representatives also left their posts in the Hadi government. The STC also declared intentions to take full control of the entire coalition-held south and expel representatives of the Saudi-backed “President” Hadi from the area.
Tensions between the Hadi government and the Southern Transitional Council have always been an open secret. However, the years of coalition failures in the conflict against the Ansar Allah movement have deepened differences and increased tensions between the formal allies. Saudi Arabia and the UAE maintain an attitude that the Hadi government is the legal government of Yemen. However, they rely on rival factions on the ground to project their own influence in Yemen. This sets the ground for constant chaos, instability and power struggle in the coalition-controlled part of the country.