237. Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1

RPM 78–10005


  • Saudi Arabia-South Yemen—New Chill in Relations

Saudi Arabia has reverted to a hard line, less conciliatory policy towards South Yemen after trying for the past few years to induce a moderation in Aden’s policies through promises of economic aid. Associated with this renewed hard line policy is a recent buildup of regular Saudi military forces along its border of South Yemen and a regrouping of the old, [less than 1 line not declassified], Saudi-supported South Yemeni exile groups.

Until recently, Saudi policy towards South Yemen was based on the belief that Aden’s radical, leftist policies could be best moderated through inducements of economic aid. [4½ lines not declassified]

Saudi policy under Fahd and Saud was to promise substantial financial aid to South Yemen and to encourage other Persian Gulf states to do likewise. The Saudis agreed to supply crude oil to Aden’s refinery, and Saudi Arabia and South Yemen established diplomatic relations for the first time earlier this year. In addition to a general moderation of its policies, Saudi Arabia sought three specific responses from South Yemen:

—An end to its support for the Dhufari rebellion in neighboring Oman.2

—An end to its support for international terrorists.

—An end to aid and support for Ethiopia and a withdrawal of its advisers from the conflict in the Horn of Africa.

Since late last October, however, it has become evident that Saudi Arabia has reassessed its policy toward South Yemen and that those Saudi leaders—[less than 1 line not declassified]—who favor a tougher, less conciliatory policy towards Aden are again in the ascendancy. Economic aid and crude oil supplies have been halted, and Saudi financial aid to numerous development projects has been suspended. Among the causes for this change in policy are:

—Increased South Yemeni support for Ethiopia, in alliance with the Soviet Union and in opposition to Saudi Arabia’s policy of support for Somalia.

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—South Yemen’s failure to cooperate with Saudi efforts to reconcile South Yemen and Oman.

—Sharp attacks on Oman at the UN General Assembly by South Yemen’s President and his declaration of support for Dhufari rebels.

—[2½ lines not declassified]

Saudi Military Buildup

The most serious aspect of the change in Saudi policy, in the short-term, is the buildup of regular Saudi military forces at Sharurah, close to the South Yemen border, which began late last year. Sharurah is the site of a brief border skirmish between Saudi Arabia and South Yemen in 1969,3 and periodic clashes since then between South Yemeni troops and either Saudi army units or Saudi-supported exiles from South Yemen.

[1 paragraph (6 lines) not declassified]

[2 lines not declassified] Renewed cross border attacks by the exile groups would be a nuisance but not a threat to the regime in Aden. The build-up of regular Saudi forces, however, is potentially more serious. We assume that, for the moment, the increase in the strength and readiness posture of the regular Saudi garrison at Sharurah is a defensive precaution while Sultan considers Saudi Arabia’s next move toward Aden. At the very least, the buildup will send an unmistakable message of Saudi displeasure to South Yemen.

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of Support Services (DI), Job 80T00634A, Production Case Files (1978), Box 13, Folder 2, Saudi Arabia-South Yemen—New Chill in Relations. Secret; [handling restriction not declassified].
  2. Reference is to a rebellion that began in 1962 in the Omani province of Dhofar against the Sultan of Oman that lasted until 1976, with sporadic fighting lasting into 1979.
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXIV, Middle East Region and Arabian Peninsula, 1969–1972; Jordan, September 1970, Documents 175 and 176.