Yemen: Are We on The Verge?

SHAH ALAM: I know I have been writing about this several times in the past but it’s look like the crunch is on us. I have written previously that Malaysia will only take part in operations in Yemen as part of a UN peace keeping force.

However it’s looking likely we will have to make a decision about that sooner rather than later and without any UN mandate.

As you are aware, Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein met his Saudi Arabia counterpart Mohamad Salman in Jeddah last night.

Hishammudin talking with Mohammad during the meeting. Mindef picture
Hishammudin talking with Mohammad during the meeting. Mindef picture

A release on the meeting by Hishammuddin office stated that both countries agreed to forge better ties on intelligence on IS. Both ministers also discussed the current situation in the Middle East. Hishammuddin said he told the Saudi Defence Minister, who is also the Deputy Crown Prince he appreciated the accommodation, facilities and needs given to Malaysian Armed Force personnel stationed in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi for a humanitarian mission.

Although the release seemed to suggest that the meeting was an ordinary one, circumstances at the moment meant that we can wonder what actually transpired. It is unlikely though Hishammuddin will be able to announce something substantive without reporting to the Cabinet first.

One thing for certain, the timing of the latest meeting – on the verge of the Haj – one of the most important event in the Muslim calendar – suggested it’s more than that.

Coupled with the fact that the Saudi led coalition is facing daily casualties in their operations in Yemen again suggested that this meeting could be a defining moment for the Malaysian Armed Forces and the Najib administration.

Interestingly, Indonesian president Joko Widodo was in the Middle East region recently. We wonder whether he too faced the vexed question facing Malaysia. Pakistan had already said no, so that is that.

To be or not to be, that is the question. We have to wait and see.

–Malaysian Defence

If you like this post, buy me an espresso. Paypal Payment

About Marhalim Abas 2226 Articles
Shah Alam


  1. When the body bags start coming home, the pan-Arabs on this page (who also want to build their own fighter) will be less enthusiastic about sending our troops to Yemen. If Putrajaya really does this, I will laugh at their stupidity. This is a problem for the lavishly equipped militaries of the middle east, not for us.

  2. Well they already have Typhoon and Eagle over there, seems they want our Cik Su to join in as well.

    Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Adha and have a good holiday!

  3. The Saudis (who had previously got involved in Yemen against Nasser) and other GCC countries now realise what the West discovered after its adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq: easy to get in but a wee bit harder to disengage.

  4. Operational experience would be excellent but I fear our budget cannot support the extra funding required. Or lost vehicles and aircraft. Its getting to be a real nasty war there and we can see the Saudis aren’t nearly as good as their hardware suggests.

    It’s unlikely we will pay for anything apart from the normal salary paid to the soldiers involved. As for the equipment again it’s unlikely we will be using MAF weapons .

  5. For me the Yemen crisis is not about religion or sect like some one might suggest. Its about power. Stop using islam as an excuse for ur own stupidity (the same thing is happening in Malaysia when one side is assuming that he is more ‘pious’ the other guy).This arabs will never learn… But if islam holy sites were under attack thats a different story.

  6. Shed,
    what if the said islam holy sites were invaded by muslims as well? weren’t the Sauds took Makkah from the al-Rashid?

  7. Hell with the operational experience. We should not ever get involved in a conflict which has no bearing on us. The GCC countries are in Yemen not because they care about the Yemeni people or about human rights and democracy but because it involves Iran (same reason they are so hell bent on over throwing undemocratic Assad Junior, despite none of the GCC countries being themselves democratic).

    The GCC countries spend much, much more on defence, let them sort out the mess they have got themselves in. If they really wanted to contribute to peace and stability as they claim, they should be doing more to assist the Iraqis in defeating IS.

  8. When asked whether Malaysia would deploy troops to Saudi in case Iraq invaded; Mahathir gave a shrewed answer. He said only if the holy places were threatened would Malaysian troops be deployed. He off course knew that Iraq had no intention of threatening the holy places and that even if it did; the U.S. (which was responsible for the defence of Saudi) would never allow such a scenario to occur.

  9. The situation on the ground in Yemen is looking to be as complicated as in Syria, Iraq and Libya (which makes Afghanistan look like a walk in the park)

    You have:

    Factions loyal to the ex president, ISIS, al-qaeda, the houthis; all fighting against each other.

    Would it be good if we go there? I don’t think so…

  10. Im also wondering if malaysian personnel already quietly operating in Yemen (malaysian sf maybe), staging from riyadh, under the cover of humanitarian mission? (there is no news of this malaysian military humanitarian mission in saudi anywhere in the local press).

    Also remember that they recently trained with the uae forces, and now the uae forces are on the ground in Yemen.

  11. Off topic

    Anything interesting happened during the latest exercise with the Chinese navy?

    I didn’t cover the exercise, I was invited but had other things to do. As far as I am concerned nothing much really rather the same as other exercise we had with other countries. Yes I know others might think otherwise.

  12. Yes I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we are doing more than humanitarian ops there. After all, we have a history of getting “involved” covertly abroad, both near our borders and beyond.

    The Middle East is a bloody mess and we shouldn’t get involved. Let the Arabs and the outsiders (read Western) powers who have a hand in the mess the region is, sort it out.

  13. Anas

    If u noticed Malaysia is a sunny majority nation. Shite are cnsidered heretic by the malaysian islamic council. The shite houthy or even iran never threaten makkah or madinah in the first place. It is the isis who wanted to remove our holy prophet muhammad saw grave from it current site and ect. If u ask me ill be more willing to fight the isis then the dreaded houthis. They give islam a bad name with their actions..

  14. Azlan,
    Yeah I agree we should just stay clear of anything Mid East. But our MAF needs to keep up its only edge – experience. How can we possibly do that?

    Why would we not use our own equipment in a hypothetical deployment to ME/Yemen? Would we only deploy light infantry and rely on others for armour and air support?

    Logistics, it will be simpler for us to maintain the equipment used by the Saudis or UAEs. I believed ours will most probably be a medical contingent with a security task force similar to the ones we deployed to Afghanistan. Even at Afghanistan we mostly used ISAF equipment again for the sake of keeping the logistics needs as simple as possible.

  15. Had to agree, best we let the Arabs deal over that region. We don’t wanna get ourselves meddling into someone’s business… Experience or not, we got a bigger problem on our own yard and we need all the hands on board to watch over our country’s defense…

  16. Breaking news (eerily around the same time as hishammudin’s visit to saudi)

    Egypt confirmed buying both mistral class ships ex Russian navy for 950mil euro. To be delivered to Egypt by March 2016.

    Creeping closer and closer to an all out war in the middle east?

    It will take a year for the Egyptian to achieve IOC on the new ships, it will not be a factor in the next 12 months.

  17. Egypt will turn around and sell them to Russia or China.

    They have no use for these ships.

    Most likely these two ships are paid for by Saudi and UAE for use by the newly formed GCC military alliance and used for joint operations.

  18. Shed,

    Yes I have noticed – for quite a while actually – that we are Sunni nation and that it is illegal to be Shia here.

  19. Azlan

    Yes we (and myself)is a sunni majority nation. But the isis to me is a branch of the khawarij / takfiri style of belief. They give islam a bad name with their actions but yet they still getting new recruts even from Malaysia. What da fish? If Malaysia realy wants to get involve in a middle eastern war that isis is the one to fight. Not assad not houthy not uncle jack or whoever they are. Yes and i believe shite is heretic too..

  20. Well the Shias also consider the Sunnis heretics. Some Shias also consider the Alawites heretics – despite it being a branch of Shiasm. Despite being largely Sunnis, followers of Sifism are also seen as heretics by many Sunnis!

    As for me, I don’t pass judgement and accept the fact that people believe slightly different things.

    IS can never be defeated by purely military means – irrespective of how many tonnes of ordnance Western aircraft drop- as it’s also a political problem. For IS to be defeated in Iraq it also has to be defeated in Syria. The problem is we have a cloud cuckoo land situation : the West and the Sunni Gulf States want to defeat IS in Iraq but in Syria they are hoping the “moderates” (not many left) are able to defeat Assad Jr. The problem here is that it’s not the “moderates” but IS and groups like it who are dominant in Syria. Another issue is that quite a bit of the “moderates” are not really as “moderate” as the West would one them to be.

    IS benefits largely because its enemies are divided and have no common strategy. The GCC is hell bent on defeating Iran in Yemen but it was Iranian Pasdaran who helped stem the IS tide, alongside Iraqi Shia militias. The Sunni Gulf Arabs did nothing and will continue to do nothing. Their main concerns are regime survival and weakening Iran (which to expected now has excellent relations with Iraq; courtesy of the 2003 invasion).

  21. AM,

    Egypt will never sell them to China or Russia as it would anger the Yanks. Egypt’s military rulers still largely rely on Yankee aid. Due to Camp David, Egypt became (and remains) the 2nd largest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel.

  22. The GCC doesn’t give a damn that ‘we’ never received a penny. The monies paid was NOT part of the donation. It was a specific payment to prepare the Malaysian battlegroup for deployment to Saudi. Already deferred, now we are summoned to Riyadh to explain why we have still not delivered. Duit dah bayar, except it was used to fund another operation, not Yemen.

    There are M-ATVs sitting in UAE for our fellas to fall in on.

  23. The GCC provided funding to prepare a battalion battlegroup for dispatch to Saudi and onwards to Yemen. This was already supposed to have happened, but they were told that there were delays in preparing and equipping the troops (desert pattern camo, armor carriers, helmet covers and boots plus supplementary individual equipment). There is no sign that any of the monies paid out have been spent on doing any of this.

    This is why we were summoned to Riyadh. Hishamuddin was sent as a representative but he could offer nothing to the Saudis, who are livid and need troops for the push on Sanaa. The Army is scared shitless of being thrust into either the Sadaa or Marib front.

    They are ill equipped and untrained for the sort of fighting in Yemen.

  24. A Yemeni friend used to give me some of the most delicious honey I’ve ever tasted.

    The Houthis are mainly Zaidis, Shia who’s doctrine is closest to Sunni doctrine. There were no problems until the Wahhabis from up north tried to ‘convert’ them. Before that the Saudis supported a Shia Imamate in the North against segments supported by Gamal Nasser of Egypt. Ex-President Ali Abdullah Salleh is Zaidi. Before this he waged a war for more than 5 years against the Houthis who are also Zaidis as stated earlier. Now Egypt has joined KSA against the Houthis and Ali Salleh.

    Everybody gets along with Omanis who are mainly adherents of a ‘mazhab’ derived from the Kharijites.

    What’s sectarianism got to do with Yemen?

  25. I hope there is enough sanity left in the government not to involved Malaysia in an illegal invasion war, especially not in the current domestic political tension and dire financial hardship, when even that certain nuclear-armed, mercenary failed state steer clear of the fiasco. Wonder why the BN government took pride in calling itself close confidante/ally with the one of the most oppressive, brutal and decadent regime/junta in the world? Unless, birds of a feather…?

    Even if the Opposition takes over the government they will also have the same relationship with the Saudis

  26. Marhalim….I don’t think the Saudis will ever trust Malaysia again. Definitely not the Emiratis. Instead of being open and transparent in dealing with the Saudi requests, we chose to milk it while pretending it does not exist. If the GCC wants us to send troops, the best way to do it is a PMC, overseen and regulated, recruiting with the blessing of governments. Unfortunately, that severely limits the amount of benefit one can directly accrue….since the PMC would have open books to show the client.

  27. Kerberos,

    Your “birds of a feather” analogy (not a very accurate one) can also apply to the West and to dozens and dozens of other countries worldwide. None of the GCC countries have elected governments yet are and have been strategic partners of the West for decades. Unless I’m mistaken the only countries in the region with elected governments are Lebanon and Israel.

  28. The Arabs clearly understand there is a need for us to keep our involvement under wraps and away from public eye. From the onset they were well aware that they can’t expect the same level of involvement from us as they can from others.

    As long as we maintain the same policy of being on their side in the Sunni/Shia Cold War, not being too friendly with Iran and making it illegal for any Malaysian to be a Shia; the Arabs are happy.

  29. @ stanman

    If that is true, out current politicians sucks big time at diplomacy. I wonder such blunders are also done with china and the us. In a few years we will be a pariah state in the eyes of the international community.

  30. How does keeping any involvement in Yemen on the quiet serve the nation? It does not. We are for now a democracy, our leaders are answerable to us the rakyat.
    Malaysian servicemen can be tasked with national sovereignty missions but they should not be sent to fight foreign wars without the express consent of parliament.
    Even a PMC requires parliamentary oversight but that is rather less morally dubious since they will be signing on as mercenaries.
    The UAE already has M-ATVs ready to issue to them.

  31. Well, the PAT has just completed his Haj. I suppose he’ll just change into his desert camos and direct operations in-country.

    This whole notion of our involvement sounds absurd. I don’t think politicians are that stupid. It’ll be a political disaster if things turn out badly.

    We’re talking combined operations if its only a battalion group and I’m not sure they’re used to the C2 system of the Saudi coalition. Unlike the Pakistanis, AFAIK we’ve never exercised with them, not even a TEWT. They’ll get walloped if there’s no preparation. Press blackout and A400 bringing body bags in the dead of night won’t be able to hide the fact that we were there, quietly and without parliamentary mandate. Sheer folly.

    Medical troops are a dufferent kettle of fish. They’re non-combatants under the Geneva Conventions.

    PMC operate outside UN Resolution 44/34, I agree, but how do we man the battalion group (infantry + supporting arms) quickly? Trained officers and soldiers from different arms have to resign and join the security company. More importantly, what are they going to do when they get back? Rejoin the army? What happens when they refuse to rejoin and decide to go freelance?

  32. It is not illegal to Shia in Saudi no doubt but one – in general – doesn’t get anywhere if ones a Shia there. The Saudis and their GCC partners are paranoid that their Shia citizens are potential agents/trouble makers working for Iran. When riots broke out in Bahrain, the Saudis were quick to rush SANG units across the causeway; unsurprisingly the West kept quiet. Over the past few years there have also been a number of demonstrations by Shia Saudis – in the eastern provinces – to highlight their status lower status in Saudi society, compared to their Sunni opposites.

    I’m not suggesting we keep any involvement in Yemen quiet. The public has a right to know, as does Parliament. What I did say is that the Saudis and other GCC countries would understand if we did choose to keep quiet. Personally, I really doubt that MAF elements are playing a direct combat role in Yemen. Given our history of conducting covert ops when it’s suits our national interests however, I wouldn’t be surprised we are involved doing other things.

    Yemen is an Arab mess and the Arabs should sort it out with help from countries like Pakistan which has a long history providing the Arabs with help. GCC involvement there has got nothing to do with democracy or humans rights or concern over ordinary Yemenis but over Iran. Same reason why the Arabs want Assad and Hezbollah gone – to weaken further isolate Iran.

    Yemen is being bombed on a daily basis but the Western and Arab mainstream press – who are always quick to mention civilian casualties caused by Assad – hardly mention Yemeni civilian casualties caused by Arab ordnance.

    And some actually think our troops should be there??

  33. I think is just a normal courtesy call by Hishamuddin.Nothing to be gained by sending our troops to that conflict area.Moreover we do not have an SOP established to work with the coalition under Saudi Arabia.This makes difficult to have any confidence that we can have their operational, logistic and administrative support once our military is deployed to the conflict area.

    A courtesy call on Wukuf night? I think not. I did not say we gained anything by sending troops to Yemen.

  34. Shed,
    My point with the question is that we should not be involved in a sectarian war just because we are predominantly Sunni. Why is it that it became an obligation for Sunnis to curb Shias (or vice versa) whenever they sprung? A political schism that happened long before there was even Malaysia, a conflict in which all of its original belligerents have long been dead and buried..the Saudis had played the “protecting the Holy cities” card before, one time is enough for everyone to notice that the Saud monarchy is treating the holy sites as if their property, because the sites gave them legitimacy in the eyes of other Muslim countries.

    When the Israel attack on Gaza last year triggers many street demonstrations around the world, the Saudi government advises its citizens not organize any demonstration as it could cause ‘public disturbance’ but they send a delegation to join the Republican March chanting “Je suis Charlie”..

    If it is indeed that we already took the money, it is safe to say that we might have already played a part albeit a covert one. The gulf states might be generous, but they have excellent record keeping when it comes to dollars owed, if Saddam’s still alive he would verify this.

  35. There is no reason that individual servicemen cannot opt not to go on sabbatical with the blessing of MINDEF. There will be plenty of work for a long time for AyerItam S/B.

    All AI ‘contractors’ will be paid in USD. Those who go into Yemen will get combat pay. I am sure the Saudis will be quite forthcoming in terms of renumeration if they can get some quality.

    After their 12-month sabbatical, they can either chose to re-up or return to the MAF with a nice payday. If they are KIA or WIA, there will be insurance.

    For some fellows with limited career pathways, this would be an opportunity to earn and shine. AyerItam of course cannot function as an extension of the MAF. That would be a disaster. Nobody will volunteer if the ‘usual suspects’ take the important roles. Failure will be a rather nasty and fiery death in an armored vehicle in Yemen.

    Of course AyerItam would probably make the MAF look like the welfare system it is.

    As far as working with the Saudis, I suspect that will be the least of our worries. Liaison officers, hand phones and Google Earth with work a lot better than any C2 system the Saudis may have.

    What does Malaysia get out of this? $$$$$ of course.

    It’s a really very interesting question of what to deploy and how that is done.

  36. The PMC model is much better model as each individual is a mission volunteer who has weighed he pros and cons of the mission and the remuneration involved. The only way to protect their interest is to keep this open to scrutiny, otherwise you will of course get plenty of rent seeking by uninvested parties as usual.

    In a PMC, your previous rank and experience is not directly carried over. Rather, the assessment will be of individual capability and suitability for specific tasking. Some will have specialist skills that put them into specific roles, like REME chaps into mechanic and maintenance roles.

    Indeed the idea of a hybrid military capability blending public and private sector military capabilities is nothing new. In the past, many armies were constituted with mercenary companies.

    Going to Yemen should not be regarded as an act of Sunni solidarity but rather of simple financial gain. Best not to think too hard about the religious ramifications and just worry about doing the job at hand, that is defeating the Houthis/Salleh and reestablishing the recognized Hadi government on behalf of the GCC.

    That is why AyerItam is a much better idea than MAF.

  37. Marhalim, to digress a bit.Did you see that report on the Australian submarine near a Penang ferry?I salute the Captain of the subamarine for his skill navigating in a busy commercial waterways?It kills the argument- not safe to operate submarine in our continental shelf.More ammo perhaps for RMN to acquire additional Scorpenes?

    What story is that? The Australian submarine surfaces outside the channel and was towed/tugged into its berth as other vessels.

  38. Submarines as a rule of thumb avoid the Straits of Malacca. Shallow, sandbanks and really, really busy. Also horrible acoustics and lots of stuff to stick to the anechoic.

  39. Loreng – ”It kills the argument- not safe to operate submarine in our continental shelf”

    Many parts of the Straits of Melaka are too shallow which is why subs in transit are often seen on the surface. Nobody said that our continental shelf is not ”safe”, merely that most of our territorial waters are considered shallow and subs in general always ensure there is a certain depth below the keel.

    Anas – ”if Saddam’s still alive he would verify this.”

    If alive he could speak of how the West and the Arab world not only welcomed his invasion of Iran but also spent billions underwriting it. He could also speak of how dozens of companies word wide made billions from the war, how Jordan hosted Iraqi fighters, how Egyptian special forces helped take the Fao peninsular, how British and Herman companies supplied stuff needed to make chemicals and how USN ships provided early warning on Iranian air raids.

    Saddam’s claim that Kuwait owed him money was rich given the billions spent by the Sheikhs in ensuring Saddam kept the ”evil” and ”heretic” fundamentalists Iranians at bay. In Saddam’s eyes, it was him and only him that kept the Iranians from spreading their ”revolution” westwards.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.