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Yemeni presidential adviser talks national security - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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File photo of Yemeni presidential adviser Dr. Fares Saqqaf. (AAA)

File photo of Yemeni presidential adviser Dr. Fares Saqqaf. (AAA)

Sanaa, Asharq Al-Awsat—In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Yemeni presidential adviser Dr. Fares Saqqaf spoke about the security challenges currently facing the Yemeni government.

Saqqaf discussed a series of assassination targeting military officers and security figures, pointing to the role Al-Qaeda is playing in these crimes and their wider effect on the Yemeni state.The Yemeni presidential adviser also spoke about the plight of arms smuggling and the alleged role being played by the Houthi rebels, backed by Tehran.

This interview has been edited for length.

Asharq Al-Awsat: Who is behind the assassinations targeting intelligence, army officers and security officials? What, in your view are the objectives of these assassinations?

Fares Saqqaf: This is an open war between the state and Al-Qaeda. The assassinations targeted more than 60 or 70 officers or commanders from the security apparatus in the various provinces. Hadramaut has seen the largest number of assassination attacks, which have increased in the recent period. The state has pursued a significant number of Al-Qaeda members, and every now and then we hear about UAV drones targeting Al-Qaeda leaders. They respond to such operations with these assassinations, although there is an absence of any serious investigation to reveal who specifically is behind them.

These assassinations are carried out with ease; the perpetrators are able to strike their target with ease. These military leaders are moving around in markets and streets without any protection, or receiving any intelligence information needed to take the necessary precautions. It is now incumbent on the security apparatus to ensure the safety of military commanders and officers. The state must revise their security policies to ensure the security of officials’. Al-Qaeda is now a clear enemy of the state. The war, as I see it, is not one with different dimensions; it is a security war. The state has previously faced these groups by means of popular committees, and this approach had good results in Abyan, Lahij and Aden. The establishment of an Islamic emirate in these provinces was thwarted. These popular committees represented a successful experiment. However, the ease of targeting of military commanders and officers weakens the state.

Q: Some people are speculating that members of the former regime have ties to this ongoing assassination campaign and are allied with the terrorist groups targeting security officers. What’s your view?

This is no evidence of direct ties between the two, although, there may be common interests for both sides, so to speak. The new state—or new ‘administration’—targets terrorists and Al-Qaeda. It is also working to dismantle the former regime, or what remains of it. Therefore, confusing the political scene and encouraging the failure of the process of change may serve the interest of the former regime. We saw that the former regime announced that there would be division in five Yemeni governorates, before handing them over to Al-Qaeda. This occurred thanks to the announcement that the former regime would be withdrawing from these areas, allowing Al-Qaeda to take advantage of this. There are undoubtedly those who are plotting and scheming, and who do not want the transitional period to be successful, particularly following the restructuring of the armed forces and the launch of the comprehensive national dialogue.

Today, we are seeing oil and electricity being sabotaged, the targeting of security personnel, and security chaos. Sometimes, dialogue and discussion is delayed, and there are political disruptions. Many Al-Qaeda members are able meet and plan such actions. Even the Houthi rebels can be considered to have been affected by the drone campaigns; they always condemn these campaigns and US intervention. They accuse the government of allowing foreign intervention.

Q: What is the position of the president and the sponsors of the Gulf initiative towards all these security concerns?

President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi has endured more than anybody. He can be more harmonious than any one else. The press attack him with titles such as “no to extension [of his presidential term].” It is as if they are saying: ‘We’ll give you an extension, but you must give us concessions.’ The country can’t afford such concessions at this time. Even the media campaign targeting the president and his son, in this context, aims to weaken him, particularly as all such claims are untrue. I think the sponsors of the Gulf initiative must take a decisive position on this issue, otherwise the political balance will fail, and the entire country will suffer. President Hadi has actually succeeded, but if nobody cares about this success—due to personal gains and spoils—then what can the nation do in terms of combating the problem of the southern secessionist movement, the problem surrounding Sa’ada, and the economic issues facing the country. So everybody must shoulder their comprehensive national responsibilities.

Q: The Shi’ite Houthis are participating in the national dialogue, and you have previously pointed to their hostile actions against the Yemeni government. Is the Yemeni government certain of their connection to Tehran and the recent arms smuggling problem?

This is what the political leadership in Yemen has come to realize. President Hadi holds the international community responsible for this. The Houthis themselves do not hide the fact that they have a military wing, and it is no secret that they are training, arming and storing weapons. Yemenis on the ground are experiencing the problems of electricity blackouts, water shortages, arms proliferation, and security chaos; there are our daily challenges. They have the right to ask who is behind these problems. The reality is that Iran has a project, and it is seeking to implement this; Tehran has a number of agents in Yemen and other regional countries. Iran is seeking to take advantage of this chaotic security situation. Finally, we hear that the the Iranians is using two islands in Eritrea to store weapons. The government is investigating this issue. I think that President Hadi will soon reveal—after the situation stabilizes—the reality of the situation, the obstacles we are facing, and the people who are sabotaging the country. This will help the people realize the reality of the situation, and not place all of the blame for this with the president.

Q: President Hadi sent a number of message to Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki earlier this week, did these focus on the issue of Iran’s use of Eritrean sovereign territory to store arms that threaten Yemen’s national security?

We have been facing this problem over a period of time. This is linked to the nature of the relationship between the Yemeni and Eritrean governments. Eritrea is a state that deals outside international norms. The recent visit paid by Yemeni Foreign Minister Dr. Abu Bakr al-Qirbi [to Eritrea] is important in this context, and dealt with the issue of fishing, international arbitration, and other concerns. Eritrea has perhaps underestimated Yemen in recent times and therefore may be carrying out some illegal practices. The reality is that Eritrea is a thorn in Yemen’s side, and represents an illegal port to many powers, particularly Iran. Eritrea has a tense relationships with Yemen, Ethiopia, and Sudan. Eritrea’s link to Israel and Israeli policies in this vital region of the Red Sea also represents a red line.