- Yemen offensive brainchild of new Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad who sought US support for action on Yemen in 2009
A leaked US diplomatic cable has exposed that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Naif was the mastermind behind the attack on Yemen even six years ago during the tenure of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Leaked by Wikileaks, a diplomatic cable of a meeting held in Riyadh between then ambassador Richard Holbrooke (late) with then Saudi assistant minister of the interior Prince Mohammed bin Nayef (MbN) narrated how much the new crown prince was perturbed over happenings in Yemen.
Interestingly, the entire new leadership of Saudi Arabia was present in the meeting, including now state minister and the then Major-General Dr. Sa’ad al-Jabri, Senior Advisor, Ministry of the Interior, then Major General Khalid al-Humaydan (Abu Ali), Counterterrorism Advisor, Ministry of the Interior, Brigadier General Ahmed al-Issa, US Liaison, Ministry of the Interior and others. All these officials are now on top positions in the new King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz’s government.
According to the diplomatic cable, during the meeting, MbN told Holbrooke, “We have a problem called Yemen.” Terming Yemen’s geography similar to Afghanistan, the prince feared it could soon turn even worse than Afghanistan due to threats from al-Qaeda and Houthi-Shia tribes. He said the Saudis had detected a pattern in individuals coming to the Kingdom for Hajj or Umrah and then travelling south to Yemen (“it’s only 400 miles,” he noted) for training before returning to their home countries. Saudi forces have arrested Egyptians and Algerians, among others, who were attempting to do this.
Describing Yemen as a “failed state”, the prince said it was “very, very, extremely dangerous,” and required focus. He described the Houthi tribes as “Takfiris” and Shi’a “like Hizballah South”.
Terming Houthis a threat forming around Saudi Arabia, the prince said he required “action now”. “The Saudis would like Saleh to be a strong leader but ‘his vision of Yemen has shrunk to Sana’a’, and he was losing control over the rest of the country.
“Saleh’s old advisors were gone and now he relied on his son and other younger men who did not have good connections with the Yemeni tribes. In contrast, Saudi Arabia had good connections with the tribes,” the prince said.
The prince said the Saudis had established a bilateral council with Yemen that met twice a year to consider assistance projects. The Saudi representatives were the crown prince and the oil minister. Saudi assistance to Yemen was not in the form of cash payments, MbN said, since cash tended to end up in Swiss banks.
“Instead the Saudis backed projects in the tribal areas of Yemen where AQ (Yemen branch of al-Qaeda) was hiding. The idea was that when Yemenis saw the concrete benefits of these projects they would push their leaders to eject the extremists.
Saudi Arabia was counting on this strategy, MbN said, to persuade Yemenis to see extremists as criminals rather than heroes. Holbrooke replied that the US understood Saudi concerns about Yemen, and would work with the Saudis to address the problem there.
Holbrooke thanked the Prince for Saudi Arabia’s $700 million pledge at the April 17 Pakistan donors’ conference in Japan. The US ambassador said Afghanistan and Pakistan were a major problem the new US administration had inherited.
Holbrooke said the US and Saudi Arabia shared a common purpose on Pakistan but not yet a “common collaboration.”
If Pakistan fell apart, Holbrooke said, the consequences for Saudi Arabia would be “unimaginable,” especially if Pakistan’s nuclear weapons fell into unfriendly hands. (“God forbid!” interjected the prince.)
“Under your leadership,” Holbrooke told the prince, “Saudi Arabia has defeated terror, but if Pakistan falls apart, the result would be a catastrophe.”