Saudi royal officials have intervened personally to try to discourage Emiratis from withdrawing from Yemen, the New York Times reported Friday, quoting diplomats confirming that the Saudis were deeply disappointed by the UAE's decision to reduce its forces in Yemen.
The newspaper, days after a senior UAE official said his country - a key member of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen - is withdrawing its troops from there as part of a "redeployment" for "strategic and tactical" reasons.
"The UAE is moving from a military strategy to a peace-based plan," the official was quoted by AFP as saying.
The United Arab Emirates is withdrawing its forces from Yemen at a rapid pace, after it realized that the crushing war that turned Yemen into a humanitarian catastrophe could not be won.
The newspaper quoted Western diplomats familiar with the details as saying that a reduction in the number of UAE troops had already occurred, driven by the desire to get out of a war too expensive even if angered by their Saudi allies.
The New York Times reported that the Emiratis avoided publicly announcing the withdrawal step to ease the discomfort of their Saudi counterparts. However, Western diplomats noted that the Saudis were deeply disappointed by the UAE decision and senior officials in the Saudi royal court tried to dissuade UAE officials from the withdrawal step.
Although an official at the Saudi embassy in Washington denied the newspaper that the leaders of the kingdom are unhappy, the official implicitly acknowledged the withdrawal, considering it a tactical change usually occurs during the campaigns and is implemented in coordination with the coalition, as he put it.
"Any vacuum left by the UAE withdrawal will be filled by Yemeni forces trained to stand alone," he said.
For his part, a senior official of the United Arab Emirates attributed the withdrawal to the desire to support the fragile ceasefire brokered by the United Nations in Hodeidah, which came into force in December.
"Our commitment to Yemen is still there," he said, adding that UAE troops had trained 90,000 Yemeni soldiers to fill the vacuum after their departure.
UAE forces in Aden, southern Yemen (Reuters)
A failed war
"The withdrawal will make the Saudis realize the fact that this war is a failure," said Michael Stevens of the Royal United Services Institute, a research group in London. "He tells us that the two main parties in the alliance - Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - (In Yemen)".
At the end of June, Reuters quoted four Western diplomatic sources as saying that the UAE had begun to reduce its military presence in Yemen due to security threats caused by increased tensions between the United States and Iran.
The number of UAE troops in Yemen is not known, but a diplomatic source told Reuters that the UAE had withdrawn many of its troops in Yemen in the past three weeks.
Western diplomats said that the UAE would prefer to have its troops and equipment at their disposal, in anticipation of rising tension in the Gulf, after the recent attacks on oil tankers.