SMA NEWS – GENEVA
President Aidarous Qassem Al-Zubaidi, President of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) and Vice Chairman of the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC), in an interview with The Guardian says government ground forces must supplement air attacks and urges west to help. The main points of the interview are here under:
Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor
The US-led air campaign against Houthi will not be enough on its own to deter the threat to freedom of navigation along the Red Sea, a leading member of Yemen’s UN-recognised government has told the Guardian.
Aden-based Maj Gen Aidarus al-Zoubaidi, the deputy head of the eight-strong Presidential Leadership Council, called on the west to supplement the air campaign by providing arms, training and intelligence sharing to government forces.
“We do not want the US-led coalition to repeat the same mistakes as the Arab-led coalition in Yemen when they concentrated airstrikes on Houthi positions without sufficient ground forces to supplement those strikes,” he said. “Airstrikes on their own are not enough. The Houthis have eight to 10 years’ experience of dealing with airstrikes by Saudi Arabia, and they have developed underground storage systems for their artillery.”
He added: “We are in the process of organising meetings to ask the US to expand and coordinate operations and strikes to make sure they are effective and comprehensive. What we need is military equipment, capacity building, and training for ground forces, as well as intel sharing. If there is stronger intelligence sharing, we can make joint assessments of how effective US airstrikes have been.”
Zoubaidi’s call for western forces to aid a ground operation against the Houthis may unnerve some in western capitals who fear a regional military escalation and still hope the missile strikes will be sufficient to degrade Houthi capacity to threaten commercial shipping.
Zoubaidi also challenged Houthi claims that the attacks on Red Sea shipping are solely directed at Israeli-linked traffic and in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. “The Houthis are tools of Iran in the region and specifically of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” he said. “Iran wants to send a signal to the international community that it and not Saudi Arabia is the primary actor in the region, with the most influence. Its operations in Lebanon and the Bab al-Mandab strait are designed to project that influence.
“What the Houthis are doing is not supporting the Palestinian people, it is negatively affecting them. It will just encourage more terrorists to use the Palestinian cause and extend their operations.”
“The other reason the STC supports these deterrent operations in the Red Sea is that Houthis are directly and negatively damaging the Yemeni people,” he said. “More than 80% of the food and medicines coming to Yemen are affected, especially in the south. So this is not about Gaza, but about our food security.
“If there is no strong reaction to what the Houthis are doing, there will be other threats to other important navigation routes.
Zoubaidi, speaking to the Guardian from Davos, where he is meeting world leaders, also described talks on a peace plan to end the civil war as frozen.
He said the de facto ceasefire between the Houthi forces and the UN-recognised government was already dead. “There is relative quiet, but the Houthis are using drones quite intensively, indeed daily, against us. There is no ceasefire.”
“In retrospect, the strategy of the Arab coalition to liberate Hodeidah was the current one,” he said. “The coalition’s forces were 24 hours away from liberating the port, and the cost is still being paid now. The Houthis will remain a permanent threat to freedom of navigation so long as they are on the coast.
“The Houthis are a sectarian group that does not believe in building a state. They are an extremist terrorist group that has no belief in human rights or plurality.”
He dismissed suggestions that the Houthi forces would enjoy a surge in popularity inside Yemen due to their claims that they were stopping Israeli-linked shipping, insisting the STC also supported a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine and did not back Israel’s action in Gaza.