The war in Yemen has been stoked and prolonged by the intervention of foreign powers asserting their desire for hegemony in the region.

The war in Yemen has been stoked and prolonged by the intervention of foreign powers asserting their desire for hegemony in the region.  The two primary powers have been Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the leaders of the multinational coalition of nine Arab countries that intervened in the war in 2015. Saudi Arabia has indirectly tried to draw the Sultanate of Oman into the Yemeni conflict for years to pave the way for its energy agenda in Al Mahrah province. But Muscat has resolutely maintained its neutrality regarding the conflict, a role it has traditionally played in the region.

For months, Saudi forces have infiltrated Al Mahrah province, the second-largest governorate and third-largest oil-producing province in Yemen, located within the border triangle between Saudi Arabia and Oman. Saudi Arabia is seeking to impose Riyadh’s control in the region and to provoke Muscat to join the Saudi-led military effort in Yemen. Oman, which has ties to the Gulf powers as well as to their rival, Iran, has not only remained neutral but has tried to act as a mediator. Ironically, the Saudi kingdom’s desire to achieve its short-sighted objectives by stirring things up in the province could endanger its long-term geopolitical goals and expedite the end of its presence in Yemen.

In September 2018, a number of Yemeni politicians returned to Al Mahrah province from Oman to lead protests against Saudi Arabia’s presence in the country’s southern provinces.

In September 2018, a number of Yemeni politicians returned to Al Mahrah province from Oman to lead protests against Saudi Arabia’s presence in the country’s southern provinces. In a tribal gathering in the province of Shabwa later that month, a prominent and influential Yemeni politician, Major General Ahmad Musaeed Hussein, had returned to his native Shabwa from Oman, where he had been living for years, and claimed that the conflict in Yemen was entering a new phasea phase marked by an increasing number of Yemeni uprisings and hints of a new war in areas controlled by the Saudi-UAE-led coalition.

General Hussein called for an “uprising against the Saudi-UAE presence,” which he claimed had “brought nothing but poverty and famine to the country.” At the same time, he emphasized in his statement that he had no links with any “foreign countries or any political party.”

Hussein, who is a close ally of Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, is allegedly responsible for escalating the hidden conflict between Hadi’s government and Abu Dhabi. Not only has the general accused the Saudi-Emirati-led coalition of destroying public services and vital infrastructure in the province, he has also said that it is responsible for the widespread destruction of Yemen and its economy.

In addition, Hussein has opposed various military and security entities, such as the Shabwani Elite Forces (SEF), which the UAE formed to rival the Yemeni government forces. The UAE currently controls large areas of Shabwa province in central Yemen through the SEF, and the SEF has now taken control of the entire provincial coast and most of its districts, as well as the city of Ataq.

What does Riyadh want from the Al Mahrah province and how does dragging in Oman, the only Gulf state that has so far stayed out of the conflict in Yemen,  advance Saudi interests?

The answer lies in the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most important waterways that separates the Arabian Gulf from the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean, and through which Saudi Arabia has to transport most of its oil. In an effort to eliminate influence from Iran, Saudi Arabia has sought an alternative oil export corridor on the Arabian Gulf coast. Globally, as much as 40 percent of all sea-transported oil passes through this strategic strait, including all Iranian, Kuwaiti, and Qatari oil exports. Presently, Saudi Arabia exports 88 percent of its oil through the Strait of Hormuz. Iraq and the UAE, respectively, export 98 percent and 99 percent of their oil through it.

Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz if it receives any additional threats from foreign powers. Such a threat came in early July 2018 when Washington called on its allies to stop importing Iranian oil and imposed sanctions on Tehran.

Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz if it receives any additional threats from foreign powers. Such a threat came in early July 2018 when Washington called on its allies to stop importing Iranian oil and imposed sanctions on Tehran. In response, Iranian officials called for steadfastness in the face of Western aggression and threatened to retaliate.

Saudi Arabia has been working for some time to pursue its bypass strategy.  At the end of 2017, after taking control of Port Nashton, Al-Ghaydah International Airport, and the Shahen and Sarfeet border crossings between Yemen and Oman, Saudi Arabia established its first military presence in Yemen in the province of Al Mahrah. The Saudi political propaganda machine had paved the way for this phase by claiming that Houthis were smuggling weapons through Nashton Airport.

In addition to actively trying to purchase the loyalty of prominent social figures in Yemen’s southern regions, Riyadh has also increased the number of programs and projects being implemented in Al Mahrah, seeking to expand its presence in the province. Because Al Mahrah lacks many basic services, Saudi Arabia has been able to advance its agenda under the guise of humanitarian action.

Saudi Arabia has also sought to consolidate its influence and garner support in Al Mahrah by building a Salafi center to promote the kingdom’s religious legitimacy and celebrate the Yemeni followers of Salafism, who are considered Riyadh’s most loyal allies. Not only would establishing this religious center nurture an ideological rival to counter Oman’s anti-Wahhabi school of thought, Ibadism, it would also serve to undermine and punish Muscat for its neutral position on the geopolitical agendas of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi in the region.

While the kingdom has not made clear its true motives behind its occupation and control of Al Mahrah, the main reason has become apparent over time. Riyadh is paving the way for Saudi Aramco to build an oil pipeline project that will run roughly 112 miles from the Kharakhir border area in Saudi Arabia to the Port of Nashton in Al Mahrah, Yemen.

Ali Al-Harizi, the leader of the Al Mahrah protests, stated that demands for Saudi Arabia to leave the province began when Riyadh started “carrying out the oil pipeline project without any coordination with Yemen, whether the legitimate government or a local authority.”

Ali Al-Harizi, the leader of the Al Mahrah protests, stated that demands for Saudi Arabia to leave the province began when Riyadh started “carrying out the oil pipeline project without any coordination with Yemen, whether the legitimate government or a local authority.” Furthermore, Al-Harizi claimed that the coalition is dealing with Al Mahrah residents like “animals and not human beings,” according to The New Arab.

Saudi Arabia continues to incite conflict within Yemen to provide “cover” for achieving its economic interests. It is relentlessly trying to secure an alternative corridor for exporting its oil other than the Iranian-controlled Strait of Hormuz. However, in light of the recent U.S. Senate vote calling for an end to U.S. military support for the war in Yemen, Riyadh may be hampered in its efforts to accomplish its unstated objective.