Though it was a praiseworthy move by Saudi Arabia to announce a ceasefire and seek an end to the tragic war, the Saudi exit from Yemen’s plight is still complicated. Saudi Arabia abruptly jumped, in March 2015, in Yemen’s land and air to fight, but it cannot just bounce back and leave the country’s quagmire unsettled. If Saudi Arabia decides to correct its war policy and priorities in Yemen, truces will be successful, and peace will be possible. Otherwise, any political talk or diplomatic effort towards peace will not yield positive results.
Recently, Martin Griffiths, the United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, said he proposed a comprehensive initiative to end the war in Yemen, and the proposal is under revision based on remarks from both sides—the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and the Iran-allied Houthis. “We expect them to agree on and formally adopt these agreements in the immediate future,” he said.
Given the ongoing tense scenario and yawning gaps between the two parties to the conflict, the proposal is also likely to hit a dead end and the vicious cycle of war set to go on.
For peace to be consolidated, Saudi Arabia can adopt some changes in its approach to dealing with Yemen.
For truces to stand the test and peace to be consolidated, Saudi Arabia can adopt some changes in the approach it has followed to deal with Yemen. The Saudis’ Yemen policy has miserably faltered for five years, and now is the time to revisit what they have been doing in Yemen and how they can push towards genuine peace. It can implement certain steps that will polish its tarnished image, encourage its allies in Yemen, earn stronger approval by Yemenis nationwide, and hurt its opponent—the Houthis.
First, Saudi Arabia should support the full return of the Yemeni government to the Houthi-free areas and assist the Yemeni government to exercise its full authority without disruption. Yemen’s internationally recognized president Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi has been in exile in Riyadh since 2015. He paid a few visits to the country over the last five years and returned to his residence in Riyadh. This has never happened in the history of Yemen, that a president of the country cannot find a safe place at home. Such a reality is a major weakness for Saudi Arabia and its loyal Yemeni forces who fight the Houthis. This is a major problem that should be addressed to help push for real peace.
Second, Saudi Arabia should contain the demands of the separatists and curtail their disruptive military and political activities in the southern provinces. The Southern Transitional Council (STC) has been mobilizing people and fighters to impose a new reality. They aspire for what they call the establishment of their southern independent state which merged with Yemen’s north in 1990, forming what is today the Republic of Yemen.
Saudi Arabia should contain the demands of the separatists and curtail their disruptive activities in the southern provinces.
The separatist forces have clashed repeatedly with the government forces in Aden and other southern provinces while Saudi Arabia continues observing, or at best releasing statements, urging self-restraint. Turning a blind eye to these dangerous divides in Yemen’s south or fanning them will beget further conflicts in this part of the country. If this issue is settled, Yemen will make big strides towards peace.
Adel Dashela, a Yemeni researcher and writer, rules out the possibility of defeating the Houthis while the Yemeni government does not have control over Aden. He tweeted: “The liberation of Sana’a and the end of the Iranian-backed Houthi militia coup begins by consolidating state control over Aden and the western regions [of Yemen] and stabilizing the conditions in these areas. Other than that, it is nothing but a useless conflict. The proliferation of armed groups with well-known regional support weakens the state and helps to prolong the conflict.”
Third, activating the role of the Yemeni parliament is very crucial to enhancing the presence of the Yemeni government and to better run the Houthi-free areas. Last year, the parliament held its first session in Seiyun of Hadramout province with 141 pro-government lawmakers in attendance. The total number of Yemeni parliamentarians is 301. Some of them have passed away and the rest remain in Houthi-controlled Sanaa. The resumption of the parliament sessions was a healthy indicator of the Yemeni government’s powerful presence. However, the pro-government parliament stopped sessions since last year, pointing to rifts between the government and the Saudi-UAE-led coalition.
Activating the role of the Yemeni parliament is very crucial to better run the Houthi-free areas.
Fourth, Saudi Arabia had better stop the UAE’s agenda in Yemen’s south. Despite the so-called Emirati withdrawal from Yemen last year, its influence has not fully faded away. The southern separatists have been taking advantage of the UAE’s support in order to undermine the authority of the legitimate government and handicap efforts to defeat the Houthis in the north.
The UAE has brought more harm than good over the last five years of its involvement in Yemen. It has supported southern militant groups to subdue government officials and forces. It has deployed military forces – without coordinating with the legitimate government – to Socotra, which has not seen any Houthi presence. President Hadi said in a previous statement the United Arab Emirates behaves like occupiers in Yemen. Indeed, should the feud between the Yemeni government and the Emirates continue, peacebuilding will continue to be distant.
Once Saudi Arabia seriously takes into account such steps, the Houthis will be in a weaker position and their popular support in Yemen will go down. Saudi Arabia cannot win the war against the Houthis as long as it continues to subject the Yemeni government to its will. It needs to deal with the Yemeni government as a counterpart, not an inferior.
Presently, all the Yemeni northern governorates except Marib are under Houthi control, and it is hard for the coalition to win a battle against the Houthis without the support of people in those areas. Houthi-ruled people are unwilling to support the Saudi-UAE-led coalition because they have observed the havoc that has plagued Aden and some southern provinces in which the coalition has a strong presence.
Saudi Arabia has lost about $100 billion USD while the Houthis have grown stronger military capabilities.
Since the start of the war, Saudi Arabia has lost about $100 billion USD while the Houthis have grown stronger military capabilities. Saudi Arabia intentionally made the war last longer through weakening the legitimate government and now they cannot get out of the quagmire.
As stated in “Sun Tzu on the Art of War,” “There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.”
It is baffling to watch how Saudi leadership thinks about the war in Yemen and the basis on which they have formulated war strategy.