The Skeptics

Saudi Oil and the Yemeni Succession

As detailed in a U.S. State Department cable, which sources a British diplomat based in Yemen, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia seeks to build, own and operate a pipeline that bypasses the straits of Hormuz—and hence, the Islamic Republic of Iran. The only remaining obstacle is Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Allegedly, the pipeline would run to a port on the Gulf of Aden through Yemen (the Hadramaut region), which President Saleh “has always opposed.” The Saudi strategy has been to go around Saleh by “supporting Yemeni military leadership,” “paying for the loyalty” of tribal chieftains and “positioning itself to ensure it would, for the right price, obtain the rights for this pipeline from Saleh’s successor.”

It should be noted that Saudi Arabia, described in the State Department cable as Yemen’s imposing “big brother,” has a history of meddling in its neighbor to the south. From 1962 through 1967, the Saudi government supported royalist forces fighting pan-Arab nationalists backed by Egypt. In 1994, during Yemen’s civil war, Riyadh supported southern secessionists against the government of Saleh. And today, with extremists active on the peninsula and fears of Shiite encirclement promoted by the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Saudis have been giving large payments to Yemeni sheikhs to guarantee influence over that country’s domestic politics.

For years, U.S. officials have encouraged the Saudis to address the danger Yemen poses to the region; however, by continually acting in their own best interests, the Saudis may be intensifying Yemen’s economic and political challenges, turning the country into “a vassal state,” the opposite of what officials in Washington claim to want.

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