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Cracks are widening up and fractures in the Saudi-led coalition are deepening as a result of the divergent UAE/Saudi strategies in Yemen. One of the most impoverished Arab nations faces the threat of falling apart as a result of conflicting interests and agendas by two of the most financially and militarily capable Arab countries in the Gulf. 10 raids launched by UAE jets on pro-Saudi forces in southern Yemen yesterday, killing and injuring hundreds according to STC (Southern Transitional Council) sources, have raised tension between the two sides to new and unprecedented levels

Plagued by proxy warriors

The fourth year of catastrophic hostilities that have ravaged the poor nation suffering the world’s worst humanitarian crisis has witnessed yet a new layer of complexity. Previously, the main war effort in Yemen had been between Houthi rebels supported by Iran on the one side, and the Saudi-dominated coalition on the other. Now a new inter-coalition clash of interests between the UAE and Saudi Arabia further complicates matters, and implies more death and destruction is on the way.

The proxy war in the southern major city of Aden and neighboring areas is being fought by forces of the UAE-trained and fostered so-called Security Belt Force, largely dominated by members of the Southern Transitional Council (STC), which seeks independence for South Yemen, and pro-Saudi forces loyal to the presumably elected, figure-head president Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Although these were not the first such clashes between UAE-backed and pro-Saudi local Yemeni forces as well as hire-gun mercenaries, mainly from African countries, it would appear that Saudi Arabia and the UAE were heading for an armed conflict in Yemen through their own proxies.

Backdrop of UAE-Saudi tension

The UAE’s latest air raids in southern Yemen follow a recent decision by Abu Dhabi to cut down its military presence in the country, which in turn caused a crisis with Riyadh, despite efforts and bilateral statements to underestimate the move and dampen down its implications. Things got even more tense between the two Arab apparently nominal allies, when a senior military Emirati delegation went to Tehran a few weeks ago and held talks and consultations with high ranking Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp officers. Topics discussed during the landmark visit included collaboration in regional security and safety of shipping in the Gulf between the UAE and Iran, proclaimed Saudi Arabia’s arch enemy and rival in the region and beyond.

Widening rift as interests diverge

Much has changed in terms of implementing own agendas and chasing individual interests and goals in the Yemen war. It looks like the UAE strongest man, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Zayed (MBZ) is sensing a historical chance to enforce his own agenda in Yemen, at the expense of his Saudi allies.  Government forces managed to drive out STC militias from several districts in Aden, including the presidential palace and the airport, before the separatist militia was able to regain control of the city the following day, thanks to the deadly UAE air raids.

Four years into the military intervention in 2015, theoretically in support of Yemen’s internationally recognized government after the Houthi rebel movement seized the capital, Sanaa, and much of northern Yemen, MBZ seems adamant not to stay in the position of the Coalition’s underdog any more.  This development is said to have enraged his Saudi counterpart Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS), already in much domestic and international trouble. His position has been further weakened by recurrent drone and missile Houthi attacks against major airports, military bases and vital ARAMCO oil installations in Saudi Arabia hinterland.

Stop UAE Raids, Hadi appeals to MBS

 In the aftermath of Friday’s UAE air strikes on his forces, an outraged Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi called on Saudi Arabia to put pressure on the UAE in order to stop its deadly attacks against his men in the south. President Hadi claimed some 300 of his loyal fighters were killed or wounded in the latest wave of Emirati raids.

South Yemen (Democratic Popular Republic), was an independent state from 1967-1990 with the port city of Aden as its capital. It merged with the Yemen Arab Republic, or North Yemen in 1990 following a relentless campaign by the late Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, killed by Houthi rebels last year. The Democratic South Yemen was seen as a threat by the Saudis who supported both Ali Saleh and his Tribal rival, the late Sheikh Abdullah al Ahmar, Parliament Speaker and a staunch Saudi ally. Four years later, an armed campaign for independence of the South was crushed, again with the help of the Saudis who view Yemen as their unrivaled backyard.

STC is currently trying to revive that dream of southern independence, this time with the help of the UAE who has strategic plans for Aden and other strategically located Yemeni ports. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, has a different agenda that strives to halt Emirati ambitions in Yemen at bay. Therefore, cracks in the coalition are set to widen in the near future, although the schemes both aggressor nations require one thing in common; a feeble and war-torn Yemen.