The war in Yemen, which escalated in March 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition intervened on behalf of the internationally recognised government against Huthi rebels aligned with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, has turned a poor country into a humanitarian catastrophe: hunger and fighting could provoke mass famine and waves of refugees; the conflict could destabilise Saudi Arabia; and both sides appear locked in a cycle of escalating violence, derailing UN peace talks. Crisis Group’s focus is on the negotiations: introducing ourselves at key points, shaping the debate, proposing solutions and encouraging stakeholders to modify positions based on our analysis. Concerted effort is required to convince the parties to accept the UN’s roadmap as the basis for a compromise that would end foreign intervention and allow Yemenis to make peace.
The dramatic collapse of the Huthi-Saleh alliance is likely to prolong Yemen’s war and the suffering of its people. After killing former President Saleh, the Huthis, viewed by their enemies in Riyadh as Iranian proxies, are firmly in control of the capital. Neither they, nor the Saudis, are in a mood for compromise.
Collapse of alliance between Huthis and supporters of former President Saleh deepened conflict in north, as both Saudi-led coalition and Huthis looked set to ramp up attacks in Jan. After clashes in capital Sanaa late Nov between Huthi fighters and pro-Saleh forces, Saleh 2 Dec said he would “turn a new page” with Saudi-led coalition and called on followers to turn against Huthis. Huthis killed Saleh in Sanaa 4 Dec. In following weeks, Huthis tightened control of Sanaa, cracking down on Saleh’s family members and his General People’s Congress (GPC) party. Huthis 19 Dec fired missile at Riyadh, Saudi govt intercepted. Saudi-led coalition significantly increased airstrikes in north; UN reported airstrikes killed at least 115 civilians in four northern provinces 6-16 Dec and 109 more 18-28 Dec. United Arab Emirates (UAE)-backed Yemeni forces made military gains against Huthis: captured Khawka port on Red Sea coast 7 Dec and town of Bayhan, Shebwa province, Huthis’ last foothold in south 15 Dec. Saudi Arabia and UAE leaders met Yemeni Islamist party Islah in Riyadh 13 Dec. Saudi Arabia maintained blockade on Yemen despite U.S. call 6 Dec to let through humanitarian and commercial goods. Saudi-led coalition 20 Dec said it would allow relief and commercial goods through Hodeidah port for at least 30 more days.
Since August, a public rift has surfaced between the two main partners on the northern front of Yemen’s war – the forces loyal to the Huthis and Ali Abdullah Saleh. Rather than fostering its rivals’ discord, key powerbroker Saudi Arabia should seize this rare chance to resolve the two-and-a-half year war by championing a new regional initiative.
War is denying Yemenis food to eat. This special briefing, the first of four examining the famine threats there and in South Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia, urges the Saudi-led coalition not to assault Yemen’s most important port, Hodeida, and both sides to immediately resolve deadlock over the Central Bank.
Thriving on conflict, sectarianism, and local opportunism, al-Qaeda’s affiliates are stronger than ever in Yemen. To shrink their growing base will require better governance in vulnerable areas, not treating all Sunni Islamists as one enemy, and above all ending Yemen’s civil war.
Yemen's outlook is bleak. It is crucial that the opposing blocs and their regional allies commit to a political process to resolve the conflict, but there is no end in sight. The immediate priority should be an agreement on humanitarian aid and commercial goods for areas where civilians are under siege.
Yemen is now at war. Fuelled by Saudi-Iranian rivalry and a violent jihadi upsurge, fighting is fragmenting the country and could spread beyond if parties do not immediately de-escalate and – with the support of Gulf neighbours – return to negotiations on a compromised, power-sharing leadership.
Continued fighting between Huthis and their various opponents could lead to a major conflagration, further undermining the Yemen’s troubled political transition.
Les [rebelles] houthistes [du Yémen] considèrent [les] tirs [de missiles balistique sur Riyad] comme leur meilleure chance de forcer Riyad à chercher un compromis.
Nobody doubts that Iran has been helping the [Yemeni] Houthis. [But], nobody doubts that Saudi Arabia has been conducting activities that are violations of the rules of war either.
Most people agree at this point that the Saudis are facing a legitimate security threat and that Iran is part of the problem. By continuing down this road, things will just get worse.
[Yemen's coalition] policy of trying to split the Houthi-Saleh alliance has backfired dramatically.
The [Yemeni Houthis'] reach in the population is limited, and over time that will play into their opponents’ hands. But that won’t happen anytime soon, so it looks like the conflict will worsen.
If the Saudis and the Emirates want to have any chance of defeating the [Yemeni] Houthis, they will have to bring the anti-Houthi forces together under one umbrella.
Our Arabian Peninsula Senior Analyst April Longley Alley finds pride, resilience and an eagerness to end the conflict during field research and many conversations in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital. She concludes that isolating one side or making the famine and suffering worse will only prolong the war.
Despite suffering significant blows in Syria and Iraq, jihadist movements across the Middle East, North Africa and Lake Chad regions continue to pose significant challenges. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – First Update early-warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to prioritise conflict prevention at the heart of their counter-terrorism policy and continue investment in vulnerable states.
With the world's largest hunger crisis, Yemen sits precariously on the brink of famine. Avoiding it will require all warring parties to desist from weaponising Yemen's increasingly fragile economy and return to the negotiating table.
Originally published in World Politics Review
For the first time in three decades, four countries, driven by war, verge on famine. Over coming weeks, Crisis Group will publish special briefings on Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria. Each conflict requires tailored response; all need increased aid and efforts to end the violence.