Yemen’s land border is 1,085 miles in length. Two countries share a land border with Yemen, and these are Oman, its eastern neighbor, and Saudi Arabia, its northern neighbor. The Saudi-Yemen border is the longest border stretching 906 miles. The country is also bound by the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The country has in recent years been engulfed in a bitter civil war which has gravely affected its security and has forced its two bordering countries to erect barriers to contain the smuggling of weapons from Yemen.
Oman lies east of Yemen, with the two countries sharing a long land border. The border delimiting the two countries starts at the Yemen-Saudi Arabia-Oman tri-point from where it stretches south to the Gulf of Aden. The border’s length of 179 miles makes it the shorter of Yemen’s two international borders. Oman has a barrier built on its border with Yemen in response to the insecurity threats caused by the ongoing Yemen Civil War. However, cross-border movement on the Oman-Yemen border still takes places despite the increased surveillance by Omani security agencies.
The border is infamous for smugglings of drugs, weapons, and even people. Qat, a stimulant drug which is widely popular in Oman is cheaply obtained in Yemen, which is enough motivation for Omanis who illegally cross into Yemen to buy the drug. Another interesting reason behind illegal crossings by Omanis into Yemen is to conduct weddings as they are said to be cheaper when conducted in Yemen than in Oman. While the border barrier is expected to prevent the Yemen Civil War from spilling across the border, Oman also has a humanitarian approach to the civil war. The country is constructing health facilities near the border which are aimed at offering medical aid to Yemeni refugees fleeing the civil war in their home country.
Yemen-Saudi Arabia Border
Saudi Arabia is one of Yemen’s two bordering nations and lies north of the country. The two countries share a long land border which spans 906 miles in length. The tri-point connecting the two countries to Oman marks the start of the international border from where it extends in a westward direction until ending at the Red Sea. The border lies in the Rub’ al Khali desert which is remote, with goat herding being the primary economic activity practiced. Yemen and Saudi Arabia have often clashed over the border on numerous occasions despite the two countries signing the Treaty of Jeddah in 2000 where they agreed on the demarcation of the border. Saudi Arabia had, at one time, purposed to construct a barrier stretching the entire length of the border but only built a barrier over 47 miles of the border. The barrier notwithstanding, illegal cross-border activities still takes place on the unsecured part of the border.
A section of the Saudi-Yemen border features a 10-foot tall and 47-mile long physical barrier which is aimed at containing smuggling of arms and drugs into Saudi Arabia. The barrier features state-of-the-art security technologies including electronic detection devices. Construction of the structure started in late 2003 and was financed entirely by the Saudi government. However, following widespread outrage that the barrier attracted, Saudi Arabia halted the construction in 2004, albeit temporarily. High-level diplomatic interventions from the United States and Egypt also played a role in Saudi Arabia’s decision to stop the construction of the barrier. However, construction of sections the barrier was revived in 2008.
Saudi Arabia’s Reasons for the Barrier
Saudi Arabia had outlined numerous reasons to show the need for a barrier on its border with Yemen. First, Saudi Arabia had stated that Yemen was a probable source of illegal drugs which were smuggled across the porous border. Insecurity was another factor that Saudi Arabia pointed out, stating that many terrorist elements in Saudi Arabia had Yemeni origins. Saudi Arabia claimed that the weapons smuggled across the border were used by radical insurgents in the country to execute terrorist attacks. The terrorist attacks on Saudi Arabia witnessed in the 1990s were often pointed out as an example of terrorist attacks enabled by the smuggling of weapons across the border. Riyadh compound bombings of 2003 which killed 35 people in Saudi’s capital also raised the alarm on the need of a border barrier.
Yemen’s Response on the Barrier
Yemen was against the construction of the barrier from the beginning. The country was adamant that the barrier’s construction was a violation of the Jeddah Treaty signed by the two countries in 2000. The treaty provided for grazing rights along the border allowing shepherds a buffer zone which spanned 13 miles on both sides of the border. The treaty also provided for the absence of armed forces on the buffer zone, a provision that Saudi Arabia ignored by posting armed border guards to man the barrier. However, the government of Yemen later toned down its criticism of the barrier, a move which angered many Yemeni residents who held demonstrations to show their opposition against the barrier’s construction.
The barrier’s construction was met with vocal criticism from around the globe. Media outlets compared the Saudi-Yemeni barrier to the West Bank Barrier which was built by Israel amidst bitter global condemnation. The media stated that Saudi Arabia’s construction of the barrier was an act of hypocrisy since Saudi Arabia was at the forefront of bashing Israel for the construction of the West Bank Barrier.
Saudi-Yemeni Border Conflict
The two bordering nations, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, have in recent years been engaged in a war on the border known as the Saudi-Yemen border conflict. The conflict started in April 2015 with the shelling of border villages by the Houthis and has been ongoing ever since. Estimates have it that over 500 civilians have so far perished in the border conflict, nearly all being Saudi citizens. The regions which have been worst affected by the border conflict are Asir, Jizan, and Najran. The conflict has made cross-border movement on that section of the Yemen-Saudi border virtually impossible. The border conflict has drawn in international players with Qatar, Jordan, and Pakistan being allied to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi forces are also supported in their military operations by NATO.