The Safari Club, formed by the intelligence services of Saudi Arabia, Israel, France, Iran, Egypt, and Morocco in 1976—with a “wink and a nod” from the Central Intelligence Agency—was responsible for much of the West’s clandestine operations against the Soviet Union in conflict zones extending from Afghanistan to Somalia and Angola to Nicaragua. It is ironic that a group of intelligence agencies and guerrilla groups supporting the Houthis in Yemen is now taking a page from the old Safari Club to combat against the United States, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and their proxies in Yemen, the Horn of Africa, and the greater Middle East.
The anti-Saudi Houthi movement in Yemen, whose members adhere to the Zaidi-Shi’a sect of Islam, stand opposed to the rigid fundamentalist practices of Saudi Wahhabism. The Houthis, who are aligned religiously and politically with Shi’a-ruled Iran, have established an external intelligence service under the directorship of Abdelrab Saleh Jerfan. Emulating the Safari Club, Houthi intelligence has entered into informal agreements with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) or Pasdaran; the Preventive Security Service (PSS) of Palestine; Lebanese Hezbollah’s three intelligence arms, including Unit 1800, Hezbollah’s special operations intelligence branch; and Hamas intelligence, which is based in Gaza but has agents distributed throughout the Middle East. Now that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has routed most of the jihadist guerrilla armies from his country, with the assistance of Houthi expeditionary force personnel, Syria is better placed to provide military assistance to the Houthi coalition in Yemen.
Together, this alliance of anti-Zionist and anti-Wahhabist forces, which could be called “Safari Club II,” is able to penetrate the Saudi-Yemeni border and conduct military operations against Saudi military and government targets in Saudi Arabia’s Asir province.
Ever since the Saudi-led coalition, which also includes troops from the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco, Sudan, Jordan, and Bahrain, entered the Yemeni civil war in 2015 on behalf of a Saudi stooge government, the Houthis have brought the war home to the Saudis. Houthi forces have entered three Saudi border regions, including Asir, Jizan, and Najran. The Houthis, with the backing of Pasdaran and Hezbollah intelligence, created a Saudi secessionist group, Ahrar al-Najran, or the “Free Ones of the Najran Region.” Najran was, until 1934, part of the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen, which was ruled by a Zaidi monarch until 1962, when the Yemeni kingdom was overthrown. Irredentists on the Saudi side of the border want to re-unify with Yemen. The Yemeni Hamdanid tribe, which provided the core of support for the former Yemeni Zaidi monarch, have pledged their allegiance to the Houthi-led coalition in Yemen. Houthi intelligence has also conducted reconnaissance of Israeli naval bases across the Red Sea in Eritrea’s Dahlak archipelago and the port of Massawa. Houthis have also conducted surveillance of Saudi and Emirati military operations in the Eritrean port city of Assab. In 2016, Houthi forces reportedly attacked Eritrean naval headquarters in Assab after Saudi forces arrived at the port city. The Houthis may have been aided by yet another Safari Club II ally, the Eritrean opposition group, the Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization (RSADO), which also receives support from Ethiopia.
In 2016, the Houthis successfully carried out an incursion into Asir and captured a Saudi military base, along with a cache of U.S. and Canadian weapons. The Safari Club II sponsorship of a secessionist movement in Saudi Arabia is like the original Safari Club’s support for various insurgent groups, including UNITA in Angola, RENAMO in Mozambique, and the contras in Nicaragua.
Political upheavals in Yemen and Saudi Arabia have resulted in new alliances between the Saudi coalition and the Safari Club II members. On November 4, 2017, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, moved to consolidate his political power by arresting several princes of the House of Saud, as well as prominent government ministers, clerics, and businessmen. A helicopter carrying Prince Mansour bin Muqrin, the deputy governor of Asir province, and seven other senior Saudi officials, crashed near Abha in Asir Province, near the border with Houthi-controlled north Yemen. There were several reports that the helicopter was shot down by the Saudis after they learned it was flying to Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen, where the prince and his party had been assured of political asylum. A Saudi prince joining the Houthis would have been a major coup for the Safari Club II.
At the same time the Houthis were taking sides in the internal House of Saud turmoil, Houthi intelligence, aided by the impressive signals intelligence capabilities of Hezbollah, intercepted a series of message between former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, an erstwhile ally of the Houthis, and the UAE and Jordan, both allies of the Saudis. It turned out that Saleh was negotiating a separate deal with the Saudi-UAE coalition, an act seen as the ultimate betrayal by the Houthis. The Houthis stormed Saleh’s residence in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a and executed him on the spot.
It is noteworthy, as well as ironic, that the Safari Club II is fighting against many of the members of the original Safari Club. Except for Iran, a member of Safari Club II, these include Saudi Arabia, Israel, France, Egypt, Morocco, and the ancillary members of the United States and Sudan. Henry Kissinger, who was a patron of the original Safari Club, now advises Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a cipher in the White House for Mossad, on his frequent dealings with the Saudi Crown Prince and other regional players in the Middle East, including the Israelis.
Safari Club II has something the first Safari Club lacked: popular support. The coalescence of interests of the downtrodden people of Yemen, Lebanon, and the West Bank and Gaza, along with the geopolitical security concerns of Iran, and more recently—as the result of Saudi-UAE subterfuge—Qatar, has provided Safari Club II a propaganda advantage. Originally a member of the Saudi coalition in Yemen, an economic boycott by the Saudis, Bahrainis, Kuwaitis, and Emiratis against Qatar, has given the Safari Club II alliance a sympathetic ear in Doha, the Qatari capital. China, which cooperated with the original Safari Club in operations in Afghanistan and Angola, has received Houthi delegations in Beijing. China is also reportedly supplying the Houthi coalition in Yemen with arms via Iran.
The CIA and its Cold War allies, in forming the original Safari Club, has provided an invaluable template to the besieged peoples of Yemen, the Horn of Africa, and the wider Middle East. The Safari Club II is giving the Saudis, Israelis, Americans, Egyptians, Moroccans, and others, including the Saudi-supported Islamic State and Al Qaeda forces in Yemen, a taste of their own bitter medicine.
Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.
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Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).