- Yemeni geopolitical analyst
- Riyadh-based advisory to Saudi Public Investment Fund
- London-based consultant tracking Glencore’s activities in DRC for 5 years
- Investigative journalists on the ground at ‘Davos in the Desert’
The Yemen Quagmire Just Got More Complicated
The timing of a Saudi airstrike on Yemen that killed 21 at a crowded marketplace will put further pressure on U.S.-Saudi relations, with Washington facing increasing pressure in the wake of the Khashoggi murder to step back from and punish Riyadh—a move Washington is extremely hesitant to make. But Yemen is the proxy war venue for a Saudi-UAE-American war against Iran, and it is part and parcel of the unspoken U.S. containment policy.
But there’s more tied up on the ground in Yemen than is apparent on the surface. Yemen’s oil resources aren’t Iraq’s, or Libya’s. Production is at a bare minimum, and civil war has ensured that development has been sidelined, but the prospect remains alluring, and whoever ends up controlling the oil and its export points wins this civil war. As such, Yemen’s barrels are worth more than their volume in oil.
Right now, the Iranian-backed Houthis control Yemen’s port of Hodeida, a gateway to the Bab el Mandeb Strait. In other words, Iran largely controls this strait through which nearly 5 million barrels per day of oil flow—over half of it to Europe. The Saudi-UAE coalition-backed forces control Yemen’s Bir Ali port in the Gulf of Aden (where Yemeni crude is exported to East Asia).
In the meantime, Austrian OMV has braved a return to Yemen’s oilfields, thanks to the Saudi and UAE success at seizing Hadhramaut and Marib from the Houthis on one hand and Islamic radical forces (AQAP) on the other. The Austrian company managed in late July to export its first crude cargo through Bir Ali. But the Houthis still control another oil terminal, Ras Issa, on Yemen’s west coast. They also control a pipeline that runs to Ras Issa from Marib province, the key oil-producing area.
Right now, the Saudi-led coalition is believed to be preparing for a new assault on the port of Hodeida. This would follow the airstrike that killed over 20 people earlier this week just south of Hodeida. A victory in Hodeida would be a key one for the Saudi-led coalition because it is through this port alone that the Houthis can get aid, and if…