Since early this year, the Houthis have been intensifying their military push towards oil-rich Marib province, the last northern province that remains under Yemen’s UN-recognized government. Their military offensive particularly peaked after the US revoked the designation of the group as a terrorist organization. The recent battle in Marib has been horrendous, and both sides lost hundreds of fighters in a few days in February. The human losses continue to balloon though the two sides have not revealed the exact number of deaths.
In line with the Marib battle, the Houthis have lately expanded their missile attacks and drone strikes on Saudi Arabia, triggering the Kingdom to heavily bomb locations in Sanaa and other areas under Houthi control. This development has brought the violence to a new height at a time when Yemen marks the sixth anniversary of the Saudi-led military intervention, which began on March 26, 2015.
The Houthis have escalated their attacks on Marib believing that it is their last battle in Yemen’s north, and its seizure would neutralize any threats from the government forces there.
The Houthis have escalated their attacks on Marib believing that it is their last battle in Yemen’s north, and its seizure would neutralize any threats from the government forces stationed there. Their strategy is to remove the opposition they see in Marib and boost their sense of dominance over Yemen’s north. Also, they aspire to benefit from the gas and oil resources in the province to improve their financial status. Thus far, the Houthis have not been able to ensure a victory in Marib, even as the battle remains a decisive one that could change the dynamics of the war and the fate of the warring sides.
Saudi Arabia has not been safe from the repercussions of the latest escalations in Yemen. In response, the Saudis have launched almost daily strikes, killing Houthi fighters and destroying their military equipment. Such aerial operations have hindered the Houthis’ progress towards the oil-rich enclave. The group has resorted to drones and missiles to retaliate against Saudi Arabia. In light of this scenario, the Kingdom needs to focus on certain priorities to better deal with the Houthis.
First, there is a need for a sharp focus on the military option. Peace talks seem futile because of the rise in violence. Notwithstanding that some voices have argued there is no military solution to the conflict, the fact remains that there will be no political solution before weakening the Houthis on the battleground. For this to happen, Saudi Arabia must heighten its military support and coordination with the government forces fighting on the ground. The Kingdom needs to trust and listen to the field Yemeni commanders, and it is crucial that both sides stick to specific plans, at least for the Marib front. Should the Saudis continue the same six-year-old policy in Yemen, the sure result will be the Iran-allied Houthis will not be defeated, and their drones and missiles will keep pouring on Saudi cities.
Should the Saudis continue the same six-year-old policy in Yemen, the sure result will be the Iran-allied Houthis will not be defeated, and their drones and missiles will keep pouring on Saudi cities.
Last week, the US Department of State spokesman Ned Price urged the Houthis to stop firing missiles towards Saudi Arabia and start negotiating. Yet, the Houthis have disregarded such calls, as they repeatedly justify their attacks as a form of self-defense. So, if Houthis turn a deaf ear to the American calls for peace, who would they listen to? The Houthis’ overconfidence and stubbornness have caused peace attempts over the last six years to fail. Moreover, the Saudi-Emirati coalition has behaved as occupiers in Yemen, which has increased the Houthis’ popularity and territorial gains. This transgression against the Yemeni people by the Saudi-led Arab coalition ought to cease if it is to establish peace in Yemen.
The second priority should be uniting the anti-Houthi factions, including the General People’s Congress (GPC), the Islah Party, and the southern separatists. While it would be challenging to resolve the feuds among these factions, they should at least postpone their faceoffs. Should Saudi Arabia prove incapable of bringing these factions together, the Houthi wins will accumulate. And any Houthi success is a definite Saudi loss. The wisest objective of Saudi Arabia should be supporting Yemen in ending the Houthis’ forceful takeover of the county—any other Saudi goals or interests in Yemen should come after that.
It is time for Saudi Arabia to embark on a different path from the UAE’s in Yemen.
Furthermore, it is time for Saudi Arabia to embark on a different path from the UAE’s in Yemen. The Emirates created the Southern Transitional Council (STC) in 2017, and it has been supporting this separatist body since then. The Emirates’ chief purpose is to control the coastal lines and strategic islands in Yemen’s south. Such a pro-secession plan has done a massive disservice to the UN-recognized government. Simultaneously, it has served the Houthis’ aims. At present, the southern separatists prefer to see a Houthi victory in Marib. The secessionists reckon that the Houthi takeover of this province will make the rebel group the sole dominator in the north while the separatists will control the south.
Aidrous Al-Zubaidi, the head of the STC, said in an interview in early March that he is willing to negotiate with the Houthis so long as they recognize the southern state. This rhetoric reveals the separatists’ deep interest in Marib’s fall to the Houthis. However, it can be predicted that the Houthis will not be confined to this province once they reach control of it. They will begin pushing south, triggering a fresh cycle of turmoil in the southern regions.
Over the last six years, Saudi Arabia has not only registered colossal military and financial losses, its image has been increasingly attached to violence, human rights violations, and horrific Yemeni loss of life, sickness, and famine. It has been viewed as one of the prime actors behind the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. While the past is hard to remedy, a decisive and immediate shift in the Saudi policy can alter the present and lay the ground for Yemen’s better future.
The bottom line is that six years of suffering in Yemen are enough, and there is an opportunity for the Saudi failure to be turned into success. Time is ripe for a radically positive shift in the Saudi-led coalition’s agenda in Yemen. Once this materializes, the Houthis will be weakened, and their military losses will quicken. Even more, war-ravaged Yemen will start to recover, and the Kingdom will not have to be concerned over more Houthi drones and missiles in the future.