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28 March 2015


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ex-PFC Chuck

Once again we are in debt to your erudition and experience on matters Middle East, among numerous other things. Would that our "betters" in the policy saddles took advantage of them as well.


Thank your for this educational and informative post, and for the earlier, very fine motivational work.


Colonel Lang,
I will second ex-PFC Chuck on my debt. A language teaching friend who has been on the ground in the region for the last 30 years, with the last 18 in SA training cadet pilots in English, sent this link along with the odd comments back and forth: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/28/saudi-planes-pound-yemeni-capital-in-second-night-of-bombing-witnesses-say

This was in the comments to the piece by someone on the Guardian site:
"Iranian media says 4 planes have been shot down. 1 Egyptian (pilot dead), 1 from Sudan(pilot captured), 2 from Saudi Arabia (pilots ejected into the Persian Gulf. 4 x $170 million = $680 million. YES! Cheuqes on the way!"

My friend's point was about the geography--ejection 1500 km away from the "zone." He would not vouch for the comment by the person posting it, but I think his point was to the effect that the pilots, the cream of the crop of folks in the military, do not inspire much confidence in the military capability or commitment to battle on the part of the Saudi military. This was his initial comment: "I wouldn't bother with the article. Scroll down to the comments. Find one by someone called GreenRevolution regarding aircraft losses. Sit back for a minute and think geographically!"


Col. Lang -

Fascinating. Thank you for this piece. More please!


Here are some remarks by Alain Chouet who was a senior French Intelligence analyst with a particular interest in political Islam. He remains very well informed.

He confirms what the Colonel has been saying - which, of course, is no surprise.

"You've never seen in the past any evidence of the Iranian support to the Yemeni shias because there was none.

First because those shias (Zaidis) are very different and far from the Iranian mollah's orthodoxy.

They believe that Imam Ali's posterity stops with his 4th grandson (Zin al-Abidin) and not with the 12th (Mohammad al-Qaïm, the hidden Imam).


More than that and more seriously, Teheran was very comfortable with the former President Ali Abdallah Saleh who had for 30 years very bad relations with the Saudis.

Il was enough for them.

Things changed at the end of 2011 when Saleh had to resign under the pressure of the street (please read : the pressure of sunni fundamentalists chiefs of tribes supported and activated by Ryadh).

His successor Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi was totally unable to rule the country.

He opened wide the doors of the south Yemen to the sunni extremists supported by the Saudis and Al-Qaïda.

In the North, he turned the traditionnal balance of power between the Sunni and the Zaïdi chiefs of tribes (50/50) into a 90/10.

This triggered the discontent and upheaval of the Zaïdis with Mister Houthi as their leader.

But it is more a social and economic problem than a religious confrontation.

Of course, the Iranians - and most probably the former president Ali Abdallah Saleh and his clan - surfed on the movement in order to undermine the Saudi position and influence in the country.

Why wouldn't they ?

If you've time you should follow the works of Franck Mermier who is the very best (and unfortunately a rare one....) French expert about the Yemeni questions.

Have a look at




I count 130 odd jet fighters and 600 SAM systems in the Yemeni inventory when this started, so... pl

Jerry Thompson

Sir, Pls set me straight here. I always understood that both the Hashid and Bakil confederations were predominantly Zaidi. I am getting from another quarter that the Hashid are Shaf'i/Sunni and this is said to explain the Saudi affinity for the Hashid. Which is correct, please?
My observation was always that the Hashid (led by the elder al Ahmar) were simply more amenable to 'do a deal' with the Saudis, while the Bakil were more prickly and difficult for the Saudis -- and, not that either Hashid or Bakil felt any form of common identity with the Saudis (or the Iranians for that matter), not sectarian or tribal or otherwise.


Jerry T

Both confederations are Zeidi. The Hashid are more powerful but less numerous and have had more to do with the outside world. They were willing to have reasonable relations with KSA to use in their off and on feuds with Salih. pl


With all due respect, you have more access than I do, but I have read reports that the "Saudi Arabia is planning to commit 100 warplanes and 150,000 soldiers to the Yemen offensive, according to Al Arabiya." http://rt.com/news/244117-saudi-arabia-bombs-yemen-houthis/

You or others will be better judges of the source. If they are in fact "planning" this but have not yet committed them and actually deployed them, and if they have already lost two due to mechanical failures, this does not speak well of their capabilities, given what they have invested in their military and the training they have bought. Whether the loss of the aircraft is due to mechanical failure or aborted missions or Yemeni fire, I have no way of knowing.

This suggests that they are claiming air superiority: http://www.wsj.com/articles/saudi-arabia-doesnt-currently-plan-on-ground-forces-in-yemen-1427469528

From this piece: "The development comes as the Saudi Arabia-led coalition took full control of Yemeni airspace after two days of airstrikes targeting the Houthi rebels, who have seized control of the country’s capital and government, a Saudi Defense Ministry official said."



It is not a question of access. It is a question of depth of knowledge and analytic ability. In re Saudi statements, Talk is cheap. Let us see what happens. For SA to commit 150,000 men against Yemen they would have to strip the kingdom of troops. pl


off on a tangent --
Absorbing this information while still thinking about Josh Muravchik, and having viewed Michael Rubin of AEI on
C Span this morning.
How does that all fit together?

Some time ago Muravchik was on C Span Washington Journal to defend his "We must bomb Iran" article. Somewhere in the course of the conversation he said, "I am just a scribbler."

Does a "scribbler" have moral responsibility for what he "scribbles?"

This morning Michael Rubin on C Span recited the talking points that AEI and MFA must have agreed were appropriate for this round of propagandizing the American people.

It might also be the case that I-firsters have activated a call-in network; callers to Washington Journal gushed all over Rubin and recited the proper demonizing talking points about Iran. A few callers pushed back; several of them were called antisemites for their pains.

Rubin fed C Span's listeners false and dangerously misleading information.

Does C Span have moral responsibility for what it puts out on its airways? (We know that AEI and Rubin are not concerned with matters of moral obligation to truthfully inform an audience).

The information that Col. Lang presented in this article is extremely important; all citizens should be aware of this information and it seems to me media that reaches a very large portion of the American public has an obligation to present it to them.

Similarly, there are objective experts on Iran's nuclear file who can and should have C Span-like access to the American people.

Is this a campaign that this group can activate: can we somehow organize to demand that C Span STOP featuring propagandists like Rubin & his AEI & WINEP colleagues, and START presenting to its viewers informed, objective and expert presentations such as Col. Lang's.

For sound information on Iran and NPT, I suggest Dr. Dan Joyner, a law professor with expertise in international treaties and the NPT. http://armscontrollaw.com/2015/03/23/conference-report-from-iai-conference-on-coercive-diplomacy-sanctions-and-international-law/

C-Span contact information is at this link: http://www.c-span.org/about/contactUs/

Here's the main office contact info: 400 N. Capitol St., NW Suite 650 Washington, DC 20001
(202) 737-3220 (Mon-Fri 8:30am-5:30pm ET)

e-mail: Washington Journal: [email protected]
Book TV: [email protected]

Babak Makkinejad

None of this matters.

What matters is the "talking-point" that Shia are bad; politically, religiously, culturally etc.

This mantra conforms very well with the self-image of the Shia as the one truly righteous sect of Islam and victim of perpetual conspiracy of their Sunnis brethren - the misguided feeble-minded weak in flesh and in spirit Muslims whose ancestors betrayed the House of the Prophet and trampled on their dignity and honor.

Pushing all these "Party of Ali" Believers under the same name - "Shia" - and threatening them collectively only pushes them together - the Zeidis, the Ismalis, the Jafaris, the Alawites and others.

And they all would run to the Iranians to seek protection since only death and subjugation is in store for them - per the propaganda as well as other attacks against Shia such as those against Shia Mosques in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.


Col. Lang :

Interesting update on Saudi troop requests from Bruce Riedel at Al Monitor.

Pakistan and Egypt have both declined to provide troops. Sisi was offered $12 billion ($4 billion each from KSA, Kuwait and the UAE), but has still refused to commit troops.

Support from the White House also appears to be lacking. The readout of the telephone conversation between Obama and the new Saudi king said the president emphasized the need for a political solution.

Would you expect the Saudis to back down now, or to proceed with their own troops ?



Without foreign troops I would expect SA to display its usual caution and make gestures around the frontiers of Yemen. The air effort will continue unless it becomes embarrassing. pl


Does a "scribbler" have moral responsibility for what he "scribbles?"

Enough folks believed Julius Streicher did for his writings, Croesus. They hanged him even though Hitler never used him during WWII. The same fate should go to all these liars as well.

As a sidenote, I heard a congressional committee head on CCN earlier today claim that Iran had 700 al-Quds men leading the attacks by the Houthis. Of course he went on to say Iran was supplying weapons. I think that would be difficult because of the blockade and air interdiction. This supply wouldn't be necessary because as J.E.B. Stuart said during the WBTS about the US Army being the best quartermaster he had the Houthis can say the same for DOD and the State Department in due of all the US equipment capture. It is considerable.

He also claimed that because of the loose of all those sensitive documents naming the Yemeni agents who aided the CIA were captured that these people have been rolled up and therefore, the US had no ground intelligence.

Other than the equipment losses I don't believe any of this. What a charlie foxtrot.


There are some (small) tribes within both tribes but particularly within Hashid that have become Sunni. I've noticed in the villages around Sana'a that its less to do with Sunni/Zaydi and more to do with which party you support because one or other gives you various benefits in return.

Traditional Zaydi areas such as Bani Matar (Bakil) to the South of Sana'a are speckled by supporters of Arhab (also Bakil) tribesman now AQ cleric Zindani who started his political life holding a parasol for the Imam and then became seduced by Saudi money and became Wahhabi.

I firmly believe the Saudi money has been responsible for much of the social and religious breakdown. But in the end these simple people don't really distinguish in their minds this Sunni/Shia difference; they are Muslim and that's that.



Doesn't that equate to allot of potential aircraft losses to ground fire and possible strikes by Yemeni's into Saudi Arabia?



I agree with your assessment but would add some small observations. The southern areas of the North, the parts of Tihama, Hudaydah, Taiz and Ibb, have always been under the Zaydi yoke. I agree with you that they will not fight to free themselves of this. However where mountains become desert in the north east and where the old South or PDRY was I believe is a different prospect.

Tribes in the Saudi border areas of Marib and Shabwa seem to be forever involved in intra-tribal fighting. I understand that they would be fearsome opponents of the Huthis having never really been controlled by Zaydis in history.

There are tribes in the South such as the Yafa'a who are traditionally employed - even by the Imam - as warrior tribes.

Lastly the South was incrementally controlled by the British after 1839. The Northern Zaydi tribes had never really made any inroads into controlling the none mountainous areas of Yemen. The Huthis are a long way from home and their religious party presentation to the public means they are instantly rejected in the South. If they should win the current battle for Aden (and I think they will because they are effectively the infantry that is supporting Saleh's armour) then they will find themselves in a prolonged insurgency that I don't believe they can hope to control.


Martin J

IMO the Houthis will be limited in their scope of control to the traditional lands of Zaidi control. They will figure that out eventually. As I think we agreed before we are seeing the eventual re-partition of the country into its natural parts. pl


Martin J

"... in the end these simple people don't really distinguish in their minds this Sunni/Shia difference; they are Muslim and that's that." "Simple people?" I never found them to be "simple people."Who are you to say "and that is that" in this dismissive way? I do not tolerate disrespect here, disrespect directed at me or anyone else. Are you a labor migration specialist? pl


Babak, that seems to be an internal battle; inside baseball.
Moreover, if all these disparate groups run to the Iranians for protection, well, Iran wins, no? Surely Iranian leaders are clever enough to get those fierce-fighting Zaidis to fight FOR the same cause rather than against Iran. Think of it -- US is setting the stage for Iran to be the winner of the Yemen war just as Iran won the Iraq war. It was said that Chalabi worked for the Iranians. Are you sure the ayatollahs don't have the Kagans on their payroll?

The C Span audience is, I think, the American public -- they are the people who call in, and for whose ears and leanings the messages are crafted.

I take your point that this American audience "pushes all these believers together under the same name - Shia." In one sense, that doesn't really matter: Americans are propagandized to hate ALL Muslims. Folks are getting neurological whiplash trying to decide who to hate more -- ISIL Sunni Muslims, Iran Shia Muslims, Iraqi Sunni Muslims, Syrian Alawite Muslims -- it's so difficult when the Other appears in shades other than black and white.

Which is exactly why the American people need sound information and education.

As I see it, the alternatives are chaos or revolt.

But the enormity of the problem also provides that much more leverage to re-form people's thinking.

Finally, "If I remain silent I have sinned." -Mossadeqh.



"I heard a congressional committee head on CCN earlier today claim that Iran had 700 al-Quds men leading the attacks by the Houthis." Which committee head was that? pl

Babak Makkinejad

I once heard from this fellow that in Baluchistan he was at a hamlet that self-identified as Shia and was told the next hamlet was Sunni.

When inquired as to the differences between Shia and Sunni, his interlocutors could not furnish any.

But "they are Sunni and we are Shia" - they insisted.

They did not fall back on "We are all Muslims."

Over time, I have come to associate such sentiments as "we are all Muslims" or "we are all Yugoslavs" with the Enlightened and the Broadminded.

Babak Makkinejad

That is how it seems to have worked; when Jordanian King uttered the phrase "Shia Crescent" and the course of subsequent events gave it flesh and bone.

It was not pre-ordained.

Abu Sinan

What many are missing is that thw rise of the Houthis and the wider Zaidi revivalist movment is in large part a response to thr Saudi support for the growing Salafiyah community in Yemen and support of AQAP and al Islah.

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