Middle EastSaudi ArabiaTurkeyYemen

Protracted Saudi war draws Turkey to Yemen after Libya

Turkey has reportedly been increasing its presence in Yemen’s southern coastal areas in a bid to expand its foothold in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which is worrying Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The activity is financed and supported by Qatar via some Yemeni political and tribal figures affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood movement, the Arab Weekly publication reported.

“Cautious and virtually concealed, Turkish activity in Yemen is currently concentrated in three Yemeni coastal areas: Shabwah, Socotra, and al-Makha district in Ta’iz governorate,” the report quoted anonymous sources in Yemen as saying.

Turkish intelligence elements operated in Shabwah under the cover of the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) and the Muslim Brotherhood’s growing influence in the Yemeni province, it said. 

The Muslim Brotherhood, the report said, hopes to wrest control over Shabwah’s al-Alam area and Balhaf port in order to gain leverage over “critical gas exports and much-needed access to the coast that overlooks the Arabian Sea, a key gateway for any potential Turkish intervention and the shipment of crucial supplies from Turkish military bases in nearby Somalia.”

The report further accused Turkey of escalating tensions with the help of Socotra Governor Ramzi Mahrous, citing a secret visit by the official to Istanbul, where he met Turkish and Qatari intelligence officers and Muslim Brotherhood leaders.

“The developments mean that Turkey has assumed a greater political role in southern Yemen through the country’s local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is helping Turkish charities gain influence,” the report said.

“The Islah (Reform) party is instrumental in giving Turkish institutions and the Turkish government, all masquerading as charity organizations, access to Yemeni cities,” Yemeni political analyst Mahmud al-Tahir told the Arab Weekly.

“Turkey has interests in abetting the Muslim Brotherhood and giving it more power on the Yemeni stage,” he said. 

The report said Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated officials have visited Ankara to lobby Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) for a more active role in Yemen, particularly by investing in the country’s transport sector and ports.

In mid-January, Turkey’s Deputy Interior Minister Ismail Catakli visited Aden, which has served as the seat of Yemen’s self-proclaimed regime of former president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi during the Saudi war, according to the report.

The trip came two months after Saleh al-Jabwani, a former transport minister of the Hadi government, visited Turkey to discuss cooperation in managing Yemeni ports.

Ankara’s activities in Yemen are part of a larger campaign to shore up its influence in the southern entrance of the Red Sea, the report said.

“Turkey’s efforts to increase its presence near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, through which Persian Gulf oil is transported before reaching the Suez Canal, will threaten the security of Persian Gulf Arab states,” it added. 

Saudi Arabia, along with a coalition of its vassal states, launched the military aggression on Yemen in a bid to reinstall the Hadi regime and crush the Houthi Ansarullah movement. However, over five years into the war, the kingdom has achieved neither of its objectives.

The Western-sponsored bombing campaign has plunged Yemen into what the UN says is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and killed more than 100,000 people in the impoverished state.

Saudi- and UAE-backed militants have recently engaged in intense clashes in Yemen’s southern areas, exposing a deep rift in a Riyadh-led military coalition.

The fresh adventures by the two camps serving the coalition have dragged other players to Yemen such as Turkey.

Libya is another scene of rivalry between Turkey on the one side and the UAE and Saudi Arabia on the other. 

Saudi Arabia and the UAE as well as Egypt support renegade Libyan general Khalifa Haftar, while Turkey backs the internationally-recognized Government of National Accord in Tripoli.  

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