The Arab coalition's recent killing of a senior Houthi official has struck a painful blow to the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) and reveals widening cracks inside the militia, politicians and observers told Al-Mashareq.
In a televised statement, broadcast Monday evening (April 23rd) on the militia's Al-Masirah TV, Houthi leader Abdel Malek al-Houthi announced that top political leader Saleh al-Samad had been killed last Thursday.
Al-Samad, who headed the Houthis' Supreme Political Council, was killed in a barrage of three airstrikes that targeted the port city of al-Hodeidah.
Six others in his retinue were killed in the same raid.
The Supreme Political Council is the highest political authority formed by both parties to the coup of 2014 -- the Houthis and the General People’s Congress (GPC) of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Al-Samad was second on the Arab coalition's most wanted list of Houthi leaders, after al-Houthi, and is the most senior leader to have been killed since the current Yemen conflict began.
The Arab coalition had offered a $20 million reward for any information that would help them target him, and his name appeared on a Saudi list which offered a bounty on the heads of 40 Houthi leaders totaling $440 million.
In his televised address, al-Houthi vowed a response against the Arab coalition countries, saying al-Samad's slaying "will not go unanswered".
The Supreme Political Council named Mahdi Hussein al-Mashat, al-Houthi's brother-in-law and the director of his office, to replace al-Samad as its head.
'A painful blow to the Houthis'
Al-Samad’s killing has struck "a painful blow to the Houthis", political activist Abdul Malek al-Youssefi told Al-Mashareq.
"The success of this operation shows a carefully-planned intelligence-based effort by the coalition, and is proof of a security breach by the coalition into Houthi ranks," he said.
It took the Houthis five days to disclose the killing of al-Samad and announce the appointment of al-Mashat as his replacement, which al-Youssefi said reveals the militia's inner turmoil.
The Arab coalition's targeting of al-Samad comes as "no surprise", said Abdulsalam Mohammed, head of the Abaad Centre for Strategic Studies.
There were "several reasons" for taking out the political leader, he told Al-Mashareq.
"The first reason is that the coalition has decided to target Houthi leaders since they stepped up their war by firing missiles towards Riyadh, and promised a money reward for information on them," Mohammed said.
"The second reason is Tareq Saleh's confrontation of the Houthis," he said.
Tareq Saleh leads an attack
Tareq Mohammed Abdullah Saleh is the nephew of former Yemeni president and GPC head Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was slain by the Houthis on December 4th after publicly renouncing his party's alliance with the Iran-backed militia.
Troops loyal to the elder Saleh on Thursday launched an attack, backed by Arab coalition forces, against their former allies, the Houthis.
Military sources said the attack was launched under the command of Tareq Saleh, in the area between the port city of al-Mokha and Taez province, with medical sources reporting casualties on both sides.
The former president's renouncement of the Houthis had already led to "cracks in the coup front", Mohammed said, adding that the younger Saleh is now set on avenging his uncle's killing.
Additional rifts are emerging among the members of the Hashemi tribe who are fighting in the ranks of the Houthis, he said, which has "affected the unity of Houthis and led to cracks in their internal front".
The Arab coalition's action also was motivated by "Iran’s desire to maintain the chaotic situation in Yemen and eliminate anyone who effectively takes part in agreements or the peace process", Mohammed added.
"The killing of al-Samad realises the goals of the coalition and its domestic allies, and was the result of cracks in the internal front of the coup," he said.