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.
More than three years into Yemen’s war, a bloody battle looms for the Huthi-held port city of Hodeida. International leaders should work for a UN-led negotiated settlement to stop the offensive and, if this fails, take steps to avoid deepening what is already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Fighting intensified as United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Yemeni allies mid-May launched offensive toward Huthi-held Hodeida port on Red Sea coast and Saudi-led coalition and Huthi forces upped airstrikes and missile attacks respectively, raising risk of further escalation in June. UAE-led forces claimed victories in al-Jahari and al-Khokha districts about 120km south of Hodeida. Fighting intensified 30 May less than 10km from Hodeida airport reportedly leaving 53 rebels and seven coalition-led fighters dead. UAE-led forces also claimed victory in Taiz governorate in south. Saudi-led coalition airstrike on presidential palace in Huthi-controlled capital Sanaa 7 May reportedly targeted head of Huthi revolutionary committee Mohammed Ali al-Huthi and newly appointed Huthi President Mahdi Mashat, strike killed at least six civilians, unclear if reported targets killed. Huthis continued missile attacks on targets in Saudi Arabia, Red Sea and Yemen: Saudi security forces 9 May shot down two missiles over capital Riyadh and over southern city of Jizan 21 May; missile reportedly struck Turkish vessel in Red Sea carrying wheat to Yemen 10 May; missile reportedly killed five civilians in govt-held Marib city 22 May. UAE’s late April deployment of troops and armoured vehicles to Socotra island in Gulf of Aden without consulting Hadi govt sparked spat between nominal allies; Hadi govt accused UAE of occupying territory. Saudi delegation 4 May travelled to island to mediate dispute. Yemeni PM Bin Daghr 14 May said dispute resolved. Govt declared state of emergency for Socotra as cyclone Mekunu hit island 24 May. Saudi-led coalition 14 May said it would allow two flights a month between Cairo and Sanaa for those needing urgent medical care. UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths continued talks with local and regional actors intending to present framework agreement for reviving talks to UN Security Council mid-June.
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.
[The offensive in Hodeida] comes from a [point of] frustration for the UAE over the stalemated situation, and a desire to push the Houthis into a position in which they would have to make greater compromises.
A better chance of success would be a deal whereby the Houthis permit a neutral third-party monitoring of shipments coming through the [Hodeida] port, essentially moving UNVIM [UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen] onshore.
The narrative of a ‘legitimate government’ [in Yemen] fighting the ‘Iranian-backed Houthis’ obscures a complex local reality, and it hinders efforts to achieve peace.
[In early 2011] we were all debating what [the Arab Spring] would mean for Yemen, exactly, and I remember [Sana'a's mayor Abdulqader Hilal] saying it wouldn’t be the same.
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.
Originally published in IRIN
Crisis Group’s first update to our Watch List 2018 includes entries on Burundi’s dangerous referendum, militant Buddhists and anti-Muslim violence in Sri Lanka, the impact of the Venezuelan crisis on the region, and the situation in Yemen. This annual early-warning report identifies conflict situations in which prompt action by the European Union and its member states would generate stronger prospects for peace.
Originally published in The Washington Post
Originally published in Project on Middle East Political Science
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.