“I think Yemen's new air defense systems will definitely serve as a turning point in the war. When Saudi Arabia and its allies launched this war against the popular uprising led by Ansarullah in 2015, they didn't expect it to last more than a few weeks or months,” Randi Nord told Tasnim in an interview.
Randi Nord is the founder of Geopolitics Alert Independent World News where she covers US foreign policy in the Middle East with a special focus on Yemen. Randi's work has appeared in MintPress News, Yemen Press, Al-Akhbar al-Yemeni, and many others.
Following is the full text of the interview.
Tasnim: Recently, the Yemeni Armed Forces unveiled four new domestically-designed and -developed air defense systems. How much do you think this could change the course of the battle against the invading Saudi regime?
Nord: I think Yemen's new air defense systems will definitely serve as a turning point in the war. When Saudi Arabia and its allies launched this war against the popular uprising led by Ansarullah in 2015, they didn't expect it to last more than a few weeks or months. Riyadh proudly announced it had destroyed a weapon stockpile and expected that to be the end of it.
However, Yemen immediately started building its own missiles, defense systems, and special forces after Saudi Arabia began the war. This gave Yemen's Army and Popular Committees a new and unexpected advantage on the ground, seas, and now in the air.
Throughout the course of this genocidal war, which enters its sixth year in March, Saudi Arabia has mainly relied on airstrikes to maintain its presence. It's no secret that these airstrikes routinely and systematically target civilian gatherings such as weddings, funerals, busy weekend markets, homes, refugee camps, and so on. It's also clear that Riyadh's goal behind these airstrikes is to sow terror and crisis in the civilian population because they also target vital infrastructure such as water treatment facilities, factories, farms, agricultural areas, ancient archeological sites, and government buildings.
Before unveiling the advanced air defense systems, Yemen could only respond to these terror attacks on civilians by striking Saudi economic and military targets after the fact. But of course, you can't put a price on innocent civilian lives. The new air defense systems now allow Yemen to take a truely defensive and proactive approach to the Saudi airstrikes. Yemenis are no longer helpless because the Yemeni Armed Forces can defend the country's airspace and keep fighter jets out.
This poses a major problem for the Saudi coalition, especially Riyadh, because it relies on airstrikes. Yemen's new air defense could ultimately push the Saudis to finally end the war or at least its airstrike campaign.
Tasnim: In Mid-Feb, Yemeni air defense units targeted and shot down a Saudi military aircraft over Jawf in retaliation for the Riyadh regime’s ongoing aggression against the Arab country. Later, the spokesman for Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah movement said the shoot-down indicated that Yemeni air defense units had made significant progress in the field of defense. What do you think?
Nord: I think all of us watching Yemen's military advancement have been waiting for this day. We've seen Yemen unveil naval missiles, long-range, mid-range, and short-range ballistic missiles, sniper rifles, and other impressive defense systems. However, the air defense systems are so important because they will save civilian lives immediately. That plane shot down in February could very well have been on its way to target a civilian home. These air defense systems are so important for protecting civilians and defending Yemen's airspace.
It's remarkable how Yemen has managed to build its domestic missile systems and military over the course of the war. Prior to the onset of the war, Yemen was reliant on other countries like the United States for military aid. Of course, military support from the United States comes at a price: Countries that accept must maintain US-friendly politics and trade policies, host US bases, and support or at least turn a blind eye to the Israeli entity. Yemen was a lot like Egypt before the war started. In Yemen's case, this also meant hosting Saudi Wahhabi schools and even safe havens for al-Qaeda terrorists.
Yemen's advanced military now means Yemenis can be independent because it doesn't need to rely on anyone to secure its territory anymore. Yemen can focus on its economy and public infrastructure to improve civilian life and hopefully lift the blockade.
Tasnim: Saudi Arabia and a number of its regional allies launched a devastating campaign against Yemen in March 2015 with the goal of bringing the government of fugitive former president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi back to power and crushing the Houthi Ansarullah movement. So far, it has failed to gain victory in its war and in fact is swamped in a quagmire. What are your thoughts on this?
Nord: Riyadh's insistence on propping up the Hadi government is such a joke at this point for so many reasons.
First, ignoring everything else, Hadi's term expired years ago based on Yemen's constitutional term limits. However, the 2012 election, which Hadi claims as his legitimacy, was clearly designed to propel Hadi to power. The election was organized behind closed doors in Riyadh, Hadi was the only candidate, and several major parties and groups boycotted the election. Despite this, Saudi Arabia and the so-called international community claim Hadi is the official president. If this had happened in any other country there would be outrage!
Not only is Hadi's claim to power illegitimate but his party also lacks any popular support on the ground. In the northern provinces where most of Yemen's population lives, the Ansarullah movement enjoys sweeping grassroots support. Even in the southern provinces where the Saudi coalition has set up an improvised capital, Hadi still doesn't have any support. In fact, the UAE-backed parties on the ground have banned him from entering Yemen. This man lives in a Riyadh hotel! What kind of president doesn't even live in his own country out of fear?
This is a very expensive war for Saudi Arabia and it doesn't have anything to show for it. Hadi hasn't returned to power. Ansarullah has only grown stronger. Aramco is literally on fire and investors are scared off from the kingdom. Everything has backfired.
Sooner or later, Riyadh must acknowledge the failure if not for anything else but its own preservation. If Riyadh wanted to do the right thing, it would back off Yemen's political process and allow Yemenis to hold peace talks and national elections. So far, this hasn't happened but perhaps things will change this year.