The Houthi rebel militia, armed by Iran and implementing Tehran’s agenda, have different goals from the ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh and his party.
They cooperated three years ago to instigate a coup against the legitimate and internationally recognized government of president Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, but the regional and international message that Saleh intended to send was that he alone is in charge of Yemen. He permitted the Houthis to enter Sanaa only to prove that he was the only one in Yemen who could deter them, as he did six times when he was president.
Now the alliance is falling apart. Saleh uses insulting words to describe the Houthis, and they retort that he is a back-stabber and a traitor. Last week the “allies” started shooting at each other, and Col Khaled Al-Radhi, a high-ranking official in Saleh’s General People’s Congress, was killed, along with two rebels.
Saleh attended the funeral but he has not been seen since. There are rumors that he has either fled Sanaa or is under house arrest.
This alliance between Saleh and the Houthis could not last because they have different agendas, and Yemen cannot have two heads of government. They have tried to delay the inevitable by exporting their differences outside Yemen, and conducting a war against the Yemeni people and the Arab military coalition led by Saudi Arabia.
There are three possible scenarios, and none bodes well for this alliance of convenience.
The Houthis and Ali Abdullah Saleh were always unlikely bedfellows, and their growing rift is an unrivalled opportunity for the legitimate government.
Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri
The first is that they actually achieve a military victory in Yemen. If that happened, the “allies” would immediately turn on each other in an attempt to take overall control of the country. This scenario is also unlikely because of the number of Yemenis who are standing with President Hadi against these putschists, and the determination of the Arab coalition to restore the legitimate government.
The second scenario is that the “alliance” suffers a military defeat, in which case they will still turn on each other to take revenge and settle the festering scores of their bloody past.
There is a third possibility, which is that Yemen becomes part of a regional settlement negotiated at an international level, and which encompasses other conflicts such as Syria. Saleh knows this, and has already begun his maneuvers to benefit from it. The Houthis know it too, because they are being advised by Iran.
Whatever happens, the rift in this artificial alliance will grow bigger, and there will be further confrontations between Saleh followers and Houthi followers. The Houthis know only one language, and that is murder.
Saleh will not remain idle. He will act to protect himself and his people, and to show that he is still in power. Meanwhile the legitimate government should take advantage of the rift to progress and gain more territory, and also to be pragmatic and try to widen the rift — perhaps by appearing to support one side against the other.
The rebel leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi is thought to suspect that Saleh has been negotiating with the Gulf states. That may be no bad thing. In the end Saleh would prefer a settlement, but the Houthis are not interested in compromise. They will follow the Iranian agenda and keep fighting, destroying and killing.
Now is an excellent opportunity for everyone involved in Yemen to overcome this militia for ever, to bury the Iranian agenda in Yemen, to end the Iranian terror and to end the war.
• Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri is a political analyst and international relations scholar. Twitter: @DrHamsheri