Operation "Golden Spear" in Yemen

Yemeni forces backed by the Saudi-led Arab Coalition freed the strategic Red Sea port city of Mocha in Yemen’s Taiz Governorate, from Iran-aligned Houthis on January 26, 2017. Col. (res.) Dr. Shaul Shay analyzes the operation

Bab al-Mandab Strait, Yemen (Photo: AP)

The Bab al-Mandab strait is a strategically vital maritime route connecting the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. This strait is vitally sensitive, not only to all countries bordering the Red Sea, but to the world trade as a whole. Operation 'Golden Spear' aimed at liberating the Bab al-Mandab strait, all the west coast of Yemen, including the ports and entire Taiz province.

Operation ‘Golden Spear’ along the western coast kicked off on January 6, 2017, when hundreds of army troops and allied resistance fighters marched from the port city of Aden towards strategic coastal regions on the Red Sea. Mocha has long been famous for its seaport where the country’s internationally-renowned coffee is shipped from.

For more than two weeks, government forces along with a number of military advisers from the Saudi-led Arab coalition have battled Al Houthis and renegade army units loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh. 

On January 7, 2017, government forces continued advances restoring control over key positions, including a mountain Owaid and fort in Aelaidlh South Aloakhlud area. After taking the small village of Dhubab, the coalition forces moved towards Mokha. Army troops managed abort militia infiltration attempts that were accompanied with violent bombardment across eastern, southern and western fronts, as well as increased fighting in Jabal Habashi, west of Taiz.

General Omar Said Subaihi, commander of the southern resistance forces — one of three main factions that make up Yemen’s forces — was killed by rebel snipers at the beginning of the offensive in Dhubab. His death has been used as a rallying call for other southern militias from the Subaihi and Qasimi tribes to join the fight against the rebels in Taiz.

UAE forces were involved with planning the operation and are providing intelligence to the Yemeni ground troops, which are being advised and assisted by Emirati Special Forces. Coalition jets, attack helicopters and warships also carried out strikes against rebel targets as the ground forces fought to take Dhubab or Mokha.

To slow the government forces’ advances, retreating Al Houthi militants have left behind thousands of landmines.

Even as the rebels are virtually on their last legs, Al Houthi media claimed that the leader of the militia’s political council, Saleh Al Samad, had met with tribal leaders in Mocha securing a pledge from them to help them fight against government forces.

The Yemen government and the Saudi-led coalition have accused the rebel forces of using the town’s ancient seaport to smuggle in arms from Iran and other suppliers. The government tightened the screw on arms smuggling last year after storming the strategic port city of Medi in northern Yemen, another alleged entry point for sneaking arms into the country. Many Houthi combatants had surrendered to army units, while others fled the site. Those killed and injured, as well as artillery were left behind by the withdrawing Houthi forces. Al Houthis refused to admit defeat and their official media post videos allegedly showing their fighters inside the town.

Houthi militants and Ali Abdullah Saleh have been rattled by this development. They issued  a warning, to each warships or commercial ship, to not pass without permission from the Houthi authorities, failing which they will meet the same fate as the UAE ship.

Brigadier General Abdo Abdullah Majili, Yemen army spokesperson, said that the government’s sappers combed the liberated Mocha, searching for thousands of landmines planted by Al Houthis as other forces skirmished with Al Houthis snipers who refused to give up.

Arab Coalition Forces, with the help of UAE Air Force in Yemen, have destroyed on January 28, 2017, an Iranian military drone near Mokha. The drone was at a mobile launching platform, intended to target Yemeni forces participating in the liberation of Mokha city. Deputy Chief of General Staff of Yemeni Armed Forces General Ahmed Saif Al Yafei confirmed that Yemeni forces detected the drone during surveillance of northern areas in Mokha, adding that the aircraft was about to take off for its mission when it was destroyed by an air to surface missile in coordination with the UAE Air Force operating in Yemen.

The liberation of Mocha has facilitated moving to the operation’s next target, Hodeidah, the largest port in the area controlled by Iran-backed militants. Warplanes from the Saudi-led coalition intensified air strikes on Al Houthi-held regions on the Red Sea between Taiz and Hodeida apparently to pave the way for the government forces, which are still battling remnants of Al Houthis snipers in Mocha, to advance.

President Hadi congratulated pro-government forces and the people of Yemen on the victory in Mocha, and urged the forces to push forth across the country’s many front lines – which until now have mostly fallen into stalemate – until they liberate the whole country from the rebels.

In Taiz, located in northern Yemen, renewed clashes erupted with massive losses being registered on behalf of  Iran-aligned Houthis and forces  loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh Houthis.

Summary

Yemeni forces backed by the Saudi-led Arab Coalition freed the strategic Red Sea port city of Mocha in Yemen’s Taiz Governorate, from Iran-aligned Houthis on January 26, 2017. The liberation of Mocha was a main target achieved by phase one of operation ‘Golden Spear’.

Houthi forces had controlled Mokha since they overran the capital Sana’a in September 2014 and advanced on other regions aided by troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The fall of Mocha is a significant blow for the Houthi rebels since it cut a main supply route of their forces. The victory in Mocha will support the battle over Taiz. Freeing the key port city, Mokha will open up the road before pro-government forces to go in with full-blown force to the eastern side of the country.

Yemeni government increased military pressure on the rebel alliance to create fissures between the Houthi movement and the Saleh loyalists.  Beyond tactical military gains, the operation appears intended to achieve the broader political goal of the resumption of negotiations. Already the Houthi-Saleh bloc agreed in November 2016, to negotiate on the basis of the UN road map. It seems that now the government and coalition are determined to try to break the military stalemate and bring them back to talks in a weaker position.

Iran is trying to abolish all chances for the success of the political process in Yemen and continues to put fuel on the war-torn country in an attempt to impose its sinister agenda and create a model similar to the Lebanese Hezbollah militia in Yemen.

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