Dubai: The killing of Saleh Al Sammad, the second-in-command of Al Houthis, signals the growing influence of the Saudi-led coalition in areas under the control of the group, and widening differences among the militia members, analysts said.
Al Houthis might respond with more rocket attacks and by obstructing the international maritime trade in the Red Sea, they said.
The death of Al Sammad “constitutes an important crossroad” in the ongoing war in Yemen, said Mohammad Ezz Al Arab, a researcher at the Cairo-based Al Ahram Strategic Studies Centre.
“This is not related specifically to the targeting of Al Sammad, but to the alliances the coalition has succeeded in forming in the past few months in areas and governorates under the control of Al Houthis,” Ezz Al Arab told Gulf News.
“The Saudi-led Arab coalition, according to press reports, is also signalling a breakthrough in infiltrating the militia … amid differences among its various wings,” he said.
Saudi Arabia, in particular, wanted to avenge the frequent missile attacks by the Iran-allied militia on Saudi territory, Arab political analysts said.
The killing “would weaken Al Houthis’ morale”, said UK-based Yemeni politician and academic Mahmoud Azani.
Al Sammad was “one of the leading figures of the group, and [it is evident from his killing] that there are differences among the group members. The killing will further deepen the trust deficit among Al Houthis,” Azani told Gulf News.
Among the several questions being raised about is death was the quality of the intelligence that enabled the coalition to target him, and the delay in announcing his death, Azani said. Al Sammad was killed in an air strike on Thursday. However, the announcement of his death was only made on Monday. Al Houthi-run media were publishing and airing news and images of Al Sammad’s various visits on both Saturday and Sunday, political analysts said.
Al Sammad was second only to Al Houthi leader Abdul Malek Al Houthi, who is number one on the coalition’s wanted list. Al Sammad had a $20 million bounty on his head. Al Houthis’ response, analysts said, could be to launch more missile attacks against Saudi Arabia.
Since last November, they have launched several ballistic missiles at Saudi targets, which were mostly intercepted by Saudi air defences.
The group could also seek to obstruct the international maritime lanes, by seizing some oil tankers, analysts said.
A replacement for Al Sammad was announced, and through this “Al Houthis sent a signal that they are not an individual or a specific group of people, but a big group… The move also sent a message to their main ally, Iran, not to give up on them,” Ezz Al Arab said.
Al Sammad’s death could alter the balance of power in Yemen decisively in favour of the coalition.