If President Ali Abdullah Saleh had been killed five days ago, the Saudi-led coalition and the legitimate government would have taken the blame, but instead he was killed by Houthis after he formally annulled his alliance with them.
By killing Saleh, Houthis have practically become the enemies of all Yemeni parties, especially given that he was their alleged political façade.
Saleh dramatically changed the map of the war in Yemen the night he announced on TV that he accepted reconciliation, and assassinating him will not change this.
The question here is: Can the late president lead the battle from his grave by fighting Houthis and forming an alliance with the legitimate government?
What I mean to ask is: Will his influence, organizations, ideas, directives and alliances, as well his people’s loyalty to him, continue as a result of his tremendous influence that lasted four decades?
What we know is that all previous attempts to end Saleh’s influence failed. He continued to be a leader despite being forced to resign as a result of the people’s protests.
Moreover, after an attempt to assassinate him in Al-Nahdeen Mosque, everyone thought Saleh was done, but he spent months receiving treatment for his burns at Riyadh Military Hospital and surprised everyone with his return to continue to rule Sanaa and lead political and military battles. Therefore, Houthis finally decided to kill him; not because he turned against them, but because he is capable of destroying their political project.
Days ago, Saleh changed the map when he annulled his alliance with Houthis. This step resulted in reducing the number of the legitimate government’s enemies by 50 percent and shrinking the areas controlled by the armed opposition. In addition to that, by abandoning the enemies’ camp and joining the allies’, Saleh would have hastened Houthis’ defeat and ended the main war. The assassination of Saleh aims to thwart the reconciliation project.
As long as we realize that Saleh’s assassination aimed to thwart reconciliation, we must work toward making it succeed.
What Saleh did in the last four days before his assassination is the most important event since the war erupted three years ago. It will support besieging Houthis in their areas in Northern Yemen in case the commanders of Saleh’s army decided to fight alongside the Yemeni army.
In the past few days, Saleh attempted to liberate Sanaa, which has been occupied by the coup perpetrators since 2014, when Houthi forces took over the headquarters of the First Brigade, leading to the defeat of all other military and security bodies without any resistance.
Questions are today raised about how strong Houthis are in Sanaa. It was said that they were the strongest party, and that any attempt at driving them out would lead to a bloody war between the two parties in the city’s historic streets. It was hard to find the truth, but the assassination of President Saleh proved that Houthis had powerful influence.
In the past, Sanaa was Saleh’s fortress, and Houthis couldn’t have entered and occupied it without his approval. But, since they entered it, they seized arms stores, won loyalties and laid down their plans for the day in which they would fight Saleh and probably assassinate him and take over the capital.
He dramatically changed the map of the war in Yemen the night he announced on TV that he accepted reconciliation, and assassinating him will not change this.
The new situation is critical and dangerous, and requires the interference of the Yemeni army and coalition forces in Sanaa, as well as working with Saleh’s forces, which are still in shock.
The people of Sanaa and the forces of the late Saleh have a great interest in fighting a war to reclaim their city from Houthis. In his speech, Saleh called for ending the siege and reusing Sanaa’s airport for civilian and military air traffic for the first time since the war started. He also called for the opening of the roads and crossings for relief boats to reach the city and for commercial traffic. These arrangements won’t be achieved after Saleh was assassinated unless a new alliance is formed with Saleh’s forces to defeat Houthis inside Sanaa.
If the trucial parties agreed on how to rule Sanaa, this will accelerate its rehabilitation and make it the country’s administrative capital once again, after all government activities were previously transferred to Aden as a temporary capital.
The people of Sanaa, the leaders of the General People’s Congress and the commanders of Saleh’s forces must realize the importance of the change Saleh adopted, which led to his assassination, and must advocate for his decision and project.
What about the wild wolves, Houthis? They managed to get rid of Saleh, their new enemy, and disrupt his project but, practically speaking, they are no longer decision-makers in the major war and their hope for influencing the new ruling system has been destroyed.
Houthis are no longer power partners, but the assassinators of President Saleh — a crime they cannot justify. By losing Saleh, they have become nothing but Iran’s militias against the Yemenis.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor in chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article is also published.