Review: “Beyond the Arab Cold War: The International Politics of the Yemen Civil War, 1962-68” – Asher Orkaby

Asher Orkaby’s “Beyond the Arab Cold War: The International Politics of the Yemen Civil War, 1962-68” is a comprehensive analysis of the international politics and significance of the (North) Yemeni Civil War.

The Yemeni Civil War began on September 26th, 1962, when the military forces of Abdullah al-Sallal shelled Muhammad al-Badr’s royal palace in Sana’a and declared the overthrow of the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen and the establishment of the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR). Al-Badr managed to escape to the Yemeni-Saudi border and in alliance with Yemeni tribesmen launched a guerrilla war against the fledgling YAR.

Because of the international political situation at the time of the conflict, what would otherwise have been a local conflict was transformed into a multifaceted arena of international politics that seemingly defies reason and most political analysis. Supporting al-Badr, a theocratic Shia monarch, and his Yemeni tribal forces was a bizarre alliance of British colonialism, Israeli Zionism, and Saudi Wahhabism. Confronting this alliance was an equally bizarre and disparate alliance, that of the YAR, Nasserist Egypt, the U.S., and the USSR. Thus, for a relatively brief period in the 20th century, monarchists, Zionists, colonialists, and Wahhabis, on the one hand, fought republicans, nationalists, communists, and imperialists, on the other hand.

Untangling the confusing and peculiar international politics of the Yemeni Civil War is main objective of this book. Orkaby has a superb understanding of the conflict and great ability to disentangle and explain the various competing political agendas, albeit I found the anti-Egyptian bias in the book somewhat disconcerting. The Saudis feared the spread of Arab nationalist republicanism to Saudi Arabia, the Israelis, Americans, and to some extent the Soviets wanted to wear down Nasserist Egypt in far away Yemen, the British feared the spread of Arab nationalism to Aden, and the USSR wanted to continue to maintain some influence in the strategic Bab-el-Mandeb straight.

A thoroughly researched and well written book on the conflict.