Renewed fighting has ravaged Yemen over the last year, with the United Nations (UN) warning that the current violence is “among the worst… seen in Yemen for years,” serving as a damning indictment of the international community’s failures to end the seven-year-long war.
The Saudi-UAE led coalition spokesperson general Turki Al-Maliki said on January 11 that the coalition aims to “purify Yemen” amid a new operation to dislodge the Houthis’ grip over the country, indicating that 2022 may be a harbinger of further bloodshed.
In February 2021, US President Joe Biden announced an end of “relevant arms sales” to Saudi Arabia and expressed his wishes to stop Yemen’s brutal conflict. Yet since that bold proclamation, the violence has once again escalated to an unfathomable scale.
A year ago, Joe Biden announced an end of “relevant arms sales” to Saudi Arabia
Fighting between the Houthi rebels and the internationally recognized government – backed by Saudi Arabia, has continued in nearly 50 fronts in the war-torn country. The Houthis have gained a new lease on life in their bid to conquer Yemen, while the Saudis and their Emirati partners have upped their own intervention against the Houthis.
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Soon after Biden’s announcement, the Houthis intensified their long-standing campaign to capture the Marib governorate, the last stronghold of the Hadi government. Subsequently, the faction advanced elsewhere in the country. In September, the Houthis advanced on the key-oil rich Shabwa province in southern Yemen, capturing key districts.
Furthermore, despite Biden’s avowed pledge last year, Washington has continued some military support to Saudi Arabia on the premise of providing security for its regional partner.
No end to the violence
The Saudi kingdom has upped its pressure against the Houthis, despite a temporary lull in Saudi airstrikes on Yemen following Biden’s lukewarm pressure. Indeed, this “business as usual” approach between Washington and Riyadh has given the latter a green light to renew its war efforts. Saudi Arabia has also raised security threats from the Houthis, which have continued firing projectiles at the kingdom.
“The Houthi group will not compromise … it is devoted to serving the Iranian ambitions in the region.”
“The Saudi-led coalition has now realized that the Houthi group will not compromise and that it is devoted to serving the Iranian ambitions in the region, regardless of what Saudis offer,” Fuad Rajeh, a Yemeni researcher, told Inside Arabia.
On January 10, forces loyal to the internationally recognized government of Abd-Rabbuh Mansur Hadi announced they had recaptured Shabwa from the Houthi rebels. To retake various southern territories from the Houthis in January, Hadi’s forces have worked with the Emirati-backed Giants Brigades. These were sent by the UAE to prevent the Houthis taking over areas like Shabwa, which it wanted its proxy —the Southern Transitional Council (STC)— to secure.
On January 15, the Saudi air force fired 33 airstrikes on Marib in a single day, destroying 21 Houthi vehicles and killing 190 militants. That same day, the Yemeni army surrounded the Harib district in that province, a military source told Xinhua. In their quest to expel the Houthis from the governorate, the army then reportedly moved into several areas surrounding the captured territory.
“I think the two Gulf countries [Saudi Arabia and the UAE] will fight hard this time until they recapture key Houthi-controlled provinces like Taiz, Hudaydah, Marib, and Bayda, and they will push into other provinces such as Ibb,” Rajeh added.
“Saudi Arabia is stuck in a complicated situation in Yemen,” Hesham al-Ziady, a Yemeni journalist based in Sanaa, told Inside Arabia. “The war is exhausting the Saudi’s treasury without even achieving the main goals that were announced at the beginning of the Arab Coalition’s military intervention in 2015.”
“Saudi Arabia is stuck in a complicated situation in Yemen.”
Despite the financial burden of the war, Al-Ziady claimed that Saudi Arabia seeks to prolong Yemen’s conflict to expand its geopolitical influence in the country. This includes keeping the internationally recognized government dependent on Riyadh’s support, while both the Saudis and the Emiratis have empowered domestic factions in a “divide-and-rule” fashion, he explained.
Meanwhile, Fuad Rajeh argued that the Saudis could acquire further military support from its Western allies should it prove that it can defeat the Houthis.
Renewed UAE intervention
The conflict has also drawn in the UAE more deeply, despite its past focus on the south, an alleged withdrawal from the war in 2019, and its past rapprochement with the Houthis’ Iranian backers.
On January 3, the Houthis seized an Emirati ship carrying several passengers in the Red Sea, near the city of Hodeida, apparently as a response to the UAE’s renewed role in the Yemen conflict. The rebel faction rebutted the UN’s offer to mediate a release of the ship on January 16.
The Houthis claimed that it carried weapons and slammed the UN officials as “murderers who violate international laws,” once again highlighting the Houthis’ enmity and distrust of international organizations. This Houthi mistrust has been another key obstacle for peace and humanitarian shipments into the country.
The heightened tensions have now spilled over further into the UAE. On January 17, the Houthis claimed responsibility for an attack on Abu Dhabi, the Emirati capital, which killed three people. UAE authorities said the attacks were likely caused by drones. Abu Dhabi’s police stated that three tankers exploded in the industrial Musaffah area near the storage facilities of oil firm ADNOC, while another fire occurred at a construction site near Abu Dhabi international airport, Reuters reported the state news agency WAM as saying.
The Emirati foreign ministry declared that Abu Dhabi “reserves the right to respond.”
Subsequently, the Emirati foreign ministry declared that Abu Dhabi “reserves the right to respond” to the Houthis actions, which will likely increase its operations against the Houthis.
Meanwhile, Iran has allegedly supplied more weapons to its Houthi partners. The US navy reportedly seized a ship in recent months in which rocket launchers, machine guns, and sniper rifles were stored, the Wall Street Journal reported citing UN inspectors.
Iran is apparently trying to strengthen its ties with the Houthis and extend its influence in Yemen, which it has become more open about since mid-2019, despite past denials from both camps.
And although the UAE has tried to defuse tensions with Iran since 2020, the recent spat with the Houthis could ignite regional hostilities as well, particularly as Saudi Arabia has also tried to defuse strains with Tehran.
Yemenis paying the price
Ultimately, Yemenis are held hostage by these various actors’ attempts to gain their own spoils of Yemen. After nearly seven years of war and a countrywide economic collapse, the Yemeni people are still facing severe shortages of humanitarian aid and no end in sight to the conflict.
$3.9 billion were needed in 2022 to save Yemen from its ongoing humanitarian crisis.
Acting Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Ramesh Rajasingham said, on January 12, that around $3.9 billion were needed in 2022 to save Yemen from its ongoing humanitarian crisis, adding that the greatest constraint was funding.
Indeed, his warnings echo past failures to secure enough funding for Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, such as the UN fundraiser in June 2020 which raised $1.35 billion from donor states, well below the required sum of $2.41 billion.
Meanwhile, the International Rescue Committee’s Economic Recovery and Development Manager Ebtihal Ghanem said “more than half of Yemen’s population is unable to access food for survival, and the rate of poverty and hunger is increasing every day.”
Although Saudi Arabia and the UAE have contributed to Yemen’s current violence, Mohammad al-Rumin, a Yemeni journalist, told Inside Arabia that more pressure should be applied on the Houthis to help restore peace.
Al-Rumin’s words reflect many Yemenis’ frustrations that the Houthis’ abuses have been overlooked by Western observers. He argued that their role in the conflict should be considered more closely since not only did the group completely ignore Biden’s announcement last year, it also expanded its offensive strategy.