YEMENI TRIBAL LEADER: FOR SALEH, SAUDI INVOLVEMENT IN SA'ADA COMES NOT A MOMENT TOO SOON


id: 241752
date: 12/28/2009 10:44
refid: 09SANAA2279
origin: Embassy Sanaa
classification: CONFIDENTIAL
destination: 09RIYADH1617|09SANAA1611|09SANAA1617|09SANAA2227
header:
VZCZCXRO6290
RR RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDH RUEHDIR RUEHKUK RUEHTRO
DE RUEHYN #2279/01 3621044
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 281044Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY SANAA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3462
INFO RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RHMFISS/COMSOCCENT MACDILL AFB FL
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC

----------------- header ends ----------------

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 SANAA 002279

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR NEA/ARP ANDREW MACDONALD

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/28/2019
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PINR, SA, IR, YE
SUBJECT: YEMENI TRIBAL LEADER: FOR SALEH, SAUDI INVOLVEMENT
IN SA'ADA COMES NOT A MOMENT TOO SOON

REF: A. RIYADH 1617
B. SANAA 2227
C. SANAA 1617
D. SANAA 1611

Classified By: CDA Angie Bryan for reasons 1.4(b) and (d).

1. (C) SUMMARY: President Saleh believes the Saudi
Government's military actions in Sa'ada will alleviate
mounting domestic political pressure on him to demonstrate
progress against the Houthi rebels, according to Mohammad
Naji al-Shaif, a tribal leader with close personal ties to
Saleh and his inner circle. Shaif told EconOff that Saleh
views Saudi involvement in the war, and the concomitant
increase in direct Saudi budget support to the ROYG, as an
incentive to prolong the ROYG's campaign in Sa'ada. Shaif
also claimed that members of the Saudi Special Office for
Yemen Affairs, in contrast to the Saudi Government's official
support for the ROYG, are privately very skeptical of Saleh's
claims regarding Iranian assistance for the Houthi rebels.
The long absence from Saudi Arabia of Crown Prince Sultan, a
Saleh skeptic who normally heads the Special Office, has
meant that the Yemen file has largely been in the hands of
King Abdullah, a firm supporter of Saleh, according to Shaif.
END SUMMARY.

SALEH RELIEVED BY SAUDI INVOLVEMENT, BUT STILL OVERWHELMED
--------------------------------------------- -------------

2. (C) In the past month, President Saleh has told a number
of his top advisors that continued direct Saudi involvement
in the Houthi conflict will alleviate domestic political
pressure on the ROYG to produce tangible gains against the
Houthis, according to Mohammad Naji al-Shaif, a Bakil tribal
confederation leader and Member of Parliament with close
personal ties to Saleh. Saleh also views continued Saudi
involvement as the key to keeping the tap of Saudi budget
support open (Saudi monetary support for ROYG military
operations will be reported septel). The greater financial
incentives attached to direct Saudi participation in the
conflict mean Saleh now has an incentive to prolong the
conflict rather than seek a mediated solution. (Comment:
Shaif's comments on Saleh's thinking support similar accounts
from other Post contacts reported in REF B. Shaif speaks
frequently with Saleh, presidential son Ahmed Ali, and their
respective inner circles. The chummy relationship between
Shaif and Ahmed Ali was plainly evident during a recent
meeting between the two that EconOff also attended. End
Comment.)

3. (C) Like other Saleh watchers (REF C), Shaif characterizes
the multitude of threats facing Saleh as qualitatively
different and more threatening to the regime's stability than
those during any other time in Yemen's history. "Saleh is
overwhelmed, exhausted by the war, and more and more
intolerant of internal criticism. Saudi involvement comes at
just the right time for him" Shaif said. Largely
unprecedented criticism of Saleh's leadership within the
rarified circle of Saleh's closest advisors has increased in
recent months, even including longtime Saleh loyalists such
as Office of the Presidency aides Abdo Burji and Abdullah
al-Bashiri, according to Shaif. These names add to the
growing chorus of Saleh loyalists that have shed their
traditional aversion to disparaging the man they call "The
Boss" (REF D).

SAUDIS DIVIDED ON CONFIDENCE IN SALEH'S SA'ADA CLAIMS
--------------------------------------------- --------

4. (C) Members of the Saudi Government's Special Office for
Yemen Affairs, a committee normally headed by Crown Prince
Sultan, are privately skeptical of Saleh's claims of Iranian
involvement and of his desire to regionalize the Sa'ada
conflict, according to Shaif, who met with the committee
during a mid-September 2009 visit to Riyadh. Shaif told
EconOff on December 14 that committee members privately
shared his view that Saleh was providing false or exaggerated
information on Iranian assistance to the Houthis in order to
enlist direct Saudi involvement and regionalize the conflict.
Shaif said that one committee member told him that "we know
Saleh is lying about Iran, but there's nothing we can do
about it now."

SANAA 00002279 002 OF 002

5. (C) The prolonged absence from Saudi Arabia of Special
Office chairman Crown Prince Sultan (REF A), who Shaif claims
is also highly skeptical of Saleh, left the Yemen file in the
hands of King Abdullah, who has greater confidence in Saleh's
motives and leadership abilities. Committee members have
kept their doubts about Saleh's leadership abilities private
since the departure of Crown Prince Sultan, creating a vacuum
of Yemen policy advice in the Saudi Government that resulted
in the decision to intervene directly in the Houthi conflict,
according to Shaif. King Abdullah was much more receptive to
Saleh's entreaties for direct Saudi involvement than Crown
Prince Sultan ever would have been, according to Shaif.

6. (C) RIYADH COMMENT: We agree with Shaif's observation that
Saudi support is enabling Saleh to weather increased domestic
political pressure and continue his campaign against the
Houthis. However, Shaif's assumption that King Abdullah's
"greater confidence" in Saleh is driving this support may be
flawed. We have seen no evidence that the King has any
particular regard for Saleh beyond exasperation that borders
on disgust. Senior Saudi officials make no secret of their
distaste for Saleh, but see him as the "devil they know."
Aware of his growing weakness, they view their support as
essential to keeping Yemen's problems contained. Further,
contacts say Second Deputy PM and Minister of Interior Prince
Nayif, widely believed to advocate a tougher approach to the
Yemen problem, has been heavily involved in the Yemen file in
Sultan,s absence. Some suggest that the border actions --
while temporarily propping up Saleh -- may be indicative of
Saudi plans to take a harder line towards Yemen in the longer
term. END RIYADH COMMENT.

7. (U) Embassy Riyadh has cleared this cable.
BRYAN

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