The Saudi–Yemen barrier is a physical barrier constructed by Saudi Arabia along part of its 1,800-kilometer (1,100 mi) border with Yemen. It is a structure made of pipeline three metres (10 ft) high filled with concrete, acting as a "security barrier along sections of the now fully demarcated border with Yemen" and fitted with electronic detection equipment.
Construction of the barrier began in September 2003 in order to counter infiltrations and terrorism. When construction of the 75-kilometer (47 mi) barrier began Yemeni government strongly objected, stating that it violated a border treaty signed in 2000. Thus Saudi Arabia agreed to stop construction in February 2004.
Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, who has also been deputy prime minister and minister of defence, has long managed the Yemen portfolio. For decades, he paid a network of Yemeni contacts and informants, which generated resentment on the Yemeni side about Saudi "meddling". Sultan also headed the small Special Office for Yemen Affairs, which remained the main locus of Saudi Arabia's Yemen policy and patronage throughout the 1980s and 1990s, a role that weakened beginning in 2000. Its annual budget was believed to be $3.5 billion per year until the Treaty of Jeddah was signed in 2000. But even as late as early 2011, the "number of people thought to be receiving subsidies still remained in the thousands, but in April recipients were notified that payments were being terminated". The tribal elites Saudi Arabia supports to weaken Yemen central government are behind the drug trade. Saudi Arabia overreached, according to Yemen, "by accusing Yemeni smugglers of fomenting terrorism" because "homegrown Saudi terrorists—with or without weapons obtained from across the border—cannot be blamed on Yemen".
In February 2004, after extensive Egyptian and U.S. diplomatic efforts, Saudi Arabia decided to halt the construction, and Yemen agreed to take part in joint patrols and to set up watch towers to curb smuggling and infiltration. However, it was reported in October 2006, after plans were revealed of Saudi plans to build another fence along its border with Iraq, that the Saudis have enjoyed "relative success by building a similar, though shorter, security barrier-fence along their southern border with Yemen to cut down on the 400,000 illegal immigrants who cross it every year looking for work in the far more prosperous Saudi state. Saudi authorities also believe that the fence has "made their efforts to prevent the infiltration of revolutionary Islamists through Yemen far easier". In February 2007 the Arab Times reported that the “Saudis have been quietly pursuing an $8.5 billion project to fence off the full length of its porous border with Yemen for some years”.
In January 2008, Saudi authorities commenced construction of a wall along the border in the Harad district. A local sheikh claimed that erection of the wall broke the Jeddah border treaty that established the rights of both Yemeni and Saudi citizens to roam freely. The news website Mareb Press reported quoted a Yemeni military source saying that Yemeni border guards tried to prevent the construction, but the Saudis mobilized and threatened force if they were unable to commence work. Deep tunnels and concrete arches have been constructed and barbed wire has been laid along the frontiers to the south of the Saudi towns of Towal, Masfaq and Khawjarah. Local sources from Harad stated that over 3,000 tribesmen from nearby gathered to rally against it, claiming their interests would be harmed by preventing them from crossing the border to visit their relatives and cultivate their farms.
In late 2009, the Houthis extended their insurgency into Saudi Arabia when they killed a border guard as revenge for Saudi Arabia allowing the Military of Yemen to launch attacks from its territory. Saudi Arabia responded by deploying the Armed Forces of Saudi Arabia, under the command of Assistant Minister of Defence and Aviation Prince Khaled bin Sultan. The result was deemed "humiliating blow to the Saudis’ well-financed but inexperienced military"—at least 133 Saudi soldiers were killed over three months of fighting.
Saudi Arabian concerns
In the early 1990s terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia used explosives that came from Yemen. The border is 1,800-kilometer (1,100 mi), with much in the Rub' al Khali desert, or the "Empty Quarter". In October 2010 The New York Times called the border between Saudi Arabia and Yemen "an emblem of the increasingly global threats emanating from Yemen: fighters from Al Qaeda, Shiite [Houthi] insurgents, drugs and arms smuggling and, well under the world’s radar, one of the largest flows of economic refugees on earth".
Saudi Arabia claimed the barrier was necessary to protect terrorism and smuggling weapons and illegal drugs—namely qat (and Yemen’s most important export, with border tribes reportedly earning upwards of £100 million a year). Specifically, Saudi Arabia claimed that smugglers provide weapons to radical Islamists within Saudi Arabia and were the source of explosives used in attacks like the 2003 Riyadh compound bombings, which killed 35 and injured over a hundred. Two years after the Yemeni Revolution of 2011, the country found itself a "haven for foreign terror fighters" where the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has "remained resilient and even enjoyed a resurgence".
In 2008, after starting a new section of barrier in Harad District, the Saudis declared that the barrier was necessary to stem the influx of illegal immigrants and drug and weapons smuggling. Among the numerous Somali and Ethiopian refugees that arrive on Yemen's shores, thousands of them cross over into Saudi Arabia every day through the Harad District. Yemen's poverty means that most head to Saudi Arabia or other wealthy Gulf states that rely on imported menial labor. In addition, hundreds of Yemeni children have been trafficked in the past decade. In 2007 alone, more than 60,000 Yemenis were deported from Saudi Arabia.
Opponents claim the barrier severely restricts the local population—in particular in their ability to cross the border to seek access work. The Yemeni government initially opposed the construction because it violated the 2000 Jeddah border treaty, which allowed for grazing rights for shepherds in a 13-mile (21 km) buffer zone on both sides and stipulated that no armed forces be stationed within it. The first 42-kilometer (26 mi) stretch of the barrier was erected less than 100 metres from the border line. At the time, the head of Saudi Arabia's border guard maintained that the barrier was being constructed inside Saudi territory.
Yemenis have complained that Saudi Arabia’s support for various tribal and political figures in Yemen seemed aimed at keeping their southern neighbor divided and weak. Saudi Arabia reportedly spent billions of dollars a year to weaken Yemen's central rule and its republican government. As Yemen’s instability and the threat of terrorism grew increasingly worse, the New York Times reported in 2010 that Western diplomats were noticing a shift in Saudi Arabia's approach to Yemen and its longtime president Ali Abdullah Saleh (who ended up resigning in February 2012).
Furthermore, in June 2012 the Yemeni newspaper Al-Shareh revealed the names of high-ranking Yemeni state officials and tribal sheikhs who had been receiving monthly bribes from Saudi Arabia. This sparked anger among Yemenis, and a group of Yemeni activists founded the "Asir Movement" in order to reclaim the provinces of Asir, Najran, and Jizan, which Yemen conceded in the 2000 Treaty of Jeddah. A "rights organization which has worked to denounce Saudi Arabia’s abuses in northern Yemen", the Asir Movement described itself as a “civil popular” movement that seeks to raise "internal Yemeni awareness" about the situation and to explore legal remedies against Saudi Arabia "for their involvement and assistance in abdicating Yemen’s historical right to its territories", all while emphasizing Yemeni unity. The movement sought to speak out against the 2000 Jeddah border agreement as well as the 1934 Taif Agreement that was signed in 1934 to end the Saudi–Yemeni War.
To Israeli West Bank barrier
In February 2004 The Guardian reported that Yemeni opposition newspapers compared the barrier to the Israeli West Bank barrier, while The Independent wrote, "Saudi Arabia, one of the most vocal critics in the Arab world of Israel's 'security fence' in the West Bank, is quietly emulating the Israeli example by erecting a barrier along its porous border with Yemen".
The head of Saudi Arabia's border guard dismissed the comparison, stating, "The barrier of pipes and concrete could in no way be called a separation fence. What is being constructed inside our borders with Yemen is a sort of screen...which aims to prevent infiltration and smuggling". However, only 3% of the length of the Israeli West Bank barrier consists of wall.
The fundamental difference between the Saudi and West Bank barriers remains the location of the former entirely within Saudi territory recognised by Yemen and international community as opposed to location of the Israel's West Bank barrier in Israeli-occupied territories.
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