Political Analysis

Saudi King Expressed “Ire” Over Houthi Campaign

Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Khaled bin Sultan

Recently leaked U.S. Diplomatic documents reveal new details on press distortions and official disagreements with regard to Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen against Shi’ite Houthi fighters.

The Kingdom’s costly war, which was concluded by a ceasefire last January after several months of inconclusive fighting, led many observers to question the strength of Saudi Arabia’s mostly American-funded armed forces.

A cable attributed to the US’s ambassador to the Arabian oil giant, James Smith, dated 24 December 2009, indicated that Saudi King Abdullah was furious over the length of his army’s involvement in the Yemen campaign, why they had incurred so many casualties, and how inept and unprepared his armed forces had appeared.

In the diplomat’s estimation, the conduct of the war reflected poorly on the Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khaled bin Sultan and boded poorly on his chances of succeeding his father in the office of Defense Minister.

The cable questioned the official reports of casualties offered by the Saudi government, and noted that many of those died likely killed each other, in instances of “friendly fire.”

Official newspapers were deemed biased to the official government position on the conflict, and Smith noted that embarrassing details of military failings were withheld from Saudi newspaper readership.

He quoted the Al-Yawm newspaper as an example of such distortions: “[Saudi forces] pounded the stronghold of the infiltrators fortified in Al-Jabri [a Saudi border town overrung by Houthi rebels] inflicting heavy losses including the deaths of 340 infiltrators and the destruction of the deserted houses where the enemies were taking refuge.”

The message concluded by expressing repeated instances of US assistance to the Saudi war, in terms of ammunition, surveillance, and intelligence, while lamenting that bureaucratic oversight on the American side presented the quick delivery of many of the Saudi requests.