It is now more than half a decade since the Saudi-UAE-led coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015. Saudi Arabia has not only failed to achieve the military objectives it may have aimed to reach when it launched its campaign, but the balance of power also increasingly appears to have turned in the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels’ favor.
On the one hand, the rebels are improving their weaponry; and after managing to withstand for some time, they are moving towards an advanced stage of aggressiveness and have succeeded in conducting several attacks. They have also begun to announce initiatives.
Last month, the Houthis took over much of al-Jawf and Marib provinces and secured their main stronghold in Saada.
For instance, only last month, the Houthis took over much of al-Jawf and Marib provinces and secured their main stronghold in Saada, thereby showing their capability of making some territorial gains.
Moreover, in a televised address to mark the fifth anniversary of the Saudi intervention in Yemen, the group’s leader, Abdul Malek al-Houthi, is offering to swap a Saudi military pilot and four other prisoners of war held by the Houthis for Palestinian activists. The Houthis were not in a position to make such an announcement in 2015. However, today they seem to have cards in their hands to play. They are eager to project the image that today they are talking from a more powerful position than they ever had in the past.
In addition, a military spokesman for the Houthis said on March 29 that the group’s forces had launched rockets and drones at “sensitive” sites in the Saudi capital of Riyadh as well as at economic and military sites in Jazan and Asir, near the Yemeni border. This came a day after Saudi state media said that Saudi Arabian air defenses intercepted two ballistic missiles launched by the Houthis towards Riyadh and Jazan.
A spokesman for the Houthis said on March 29 that the group had launched rockets and drones at “sensitive” sites in Riyadh.
Yet although the coalition conducted air strikes on San’a as retaliation, the Saudi ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed al-Jaber, said the proposal for talks to end the five-year war remains on the table, according to the Wall Street Journal. This suggests the Saudis are increasingly aware that any escalation could cause them damages too.
Indeed, the war increasingly appears to have taken longer than what the Saudi leadership may have thought. Several countries pulled out of the coalition. No doubt because they want to avoid being in the same boat as Riyadh in allowing their global image to suffer as a result of their participation in the war that has led to what is today the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Allies Distancing Themselves
The war has also appeared to have impacted the kingdom’s ties with its allies, as more countries halt their involvement in the coalition. For instance, Jordan and Morocco are two long-standing allies of Saudi Arabia. However, the Saudis are angry that Amman has withdrawn its support for Yemen’s war. Morocco, in turn, suspended its participation in the coalition’s fight against the Houthis last year. Certainly, such an action would not have pleased the Saudi leadership.
The Saudis are angry that Amman has withdrawn its support for Yemen’s war. Morocco suspended its participation last year.
In fact, the war in Yemen can be seen as a factor that contributed to some of Riyadh’s aid to Amman and Rabat being delayed as Saudi Arabia’s allies do not seem to have contributed in the way the Saudis may have hoped.
Even when it comes to close allies, August witnessed the eruption of clashes between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council in areas such as Aden. These clashes not only expose that Riyadh and Abu Dhabi seem to have different goals and interests in Yemen, but they also expose the extent to which the coalition has become utterly divided. The so-called “Riyadh Agreement” that was signed in Saudi Arabia and aimed at bringing the sides together appears to have also collapsed.
A Negative Global Image
The kingdom did not gain any benefits from this devastating war. Rather, the conflict has shredded its global image in the eyes of the international community. Although some western governments, particularly the US administration, display incomprehensible behavior in supporting Riyadh unconditionally, public opinion in their countries oppose the war.
In the US for instance, many institutions, including the US Congress continuously try stopping their country from remaining complicit in this war through resolutions. Yet President Donald Trump has vetoed any resolution that would have aimed at pulling out American support. But that has only shown that Riyadh does not have many friends in the United States apart from Trump’s administration.
It is believed that the war has cost Saudi Arabia as much as $5 to $6 billion USD a month.
It is also believed that the war has cost the kingdom as much as $5 to $6 billion USD a month. Still, despite the fact that this huge amount has not brought the Saudis the victory they were hoping for, Saudi leadership is continuing to prolong this war by not appearing to have a plan to bring it to an end. So even if they have an intention of ending the war, that is clearly not enough. Unless they come up with a strategy to accomplish that, their actions are not helping them.
According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), the death toll for the Yemen war since 2015 has reached 100,000, a figure that includes 12,000 civilian deaths in directly targeted attacks. Out of the figure, ACLED reportedly stated that direct targeting by the Saudi-UAE-led coalition and its allies has been responsible for more than 8,000 civilian deaths since 2015.
It has become clear that continuing to adopt a military solution for Yemen’s war will only be catastrophic for Riyadh.
It has become clear that continuing to adopt a military solution for Yemen’s war will only be catastrophic for Riyadh, as it would just worsen its reputation, not to mention its economy. Rather, only a political solution will ensure that things do not stay as terrible as they are today. Even if Riyadh did not care about its global image under the reign of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, it should worry about the increasing indications that the Houthis are turning the tide of the war.