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.
A Huthi offensive threatens to engulf Marib, a province controlled by Yemen’s internationally recognised government and full of internally displaced people. Outside powers should act now to halt the fighting, which could deepen the existing humanitarian crisis and ruin peace efforts elsewhere in the country.
Fighting escalated in north as Huthis pursued counteroffensive against govt forces, seizing control of al-Jawf governorate and resuming cross-border attacks into Saudi Arabia, raising risk that violence intensifies further in north in March; fighting erupted in east near border with Oman between Saudi-backed forces and local tribesmen; and govt and southern separatists failed to advance implementation of Riyadh Agreement in south. Huthis 14 Feb claimed responsibility for downing Saudi military jet in al-Jawf governorate; Saudi-led coalition next day retaliated with airstrikes killing 31 civilians. After Saudi Arabia agreed to join talks between Yemeni govt and Huthis on confidence building measures in Jordanian capital Amman, Yemeni govt 16 Feb agreed in principle with Huthis to organise exchange of up to 1,400 detainees. After govt forces launched major offensive toward rebel-held capital Sanaa in Jan, Huthis pursued counteroffensive in al-Jawf, Sanaa and Marib governorates begun late Jan. Intense Saudi airstrikes slowed Huthis’ progress toward capturing govt-controlled cities of al-Hazm, capital of al-Jawf, and making push to Marib city, govt’s main urban strongholds and operations centres. In response to Saudi airstrikes, Huthis resumed missile attacks on southern Saudi Arabia. In east, Saudi-led coalition forces late Feb clashed with local tribal forces in al-Mahra governorate after members of Hurayzi tribe attempted to stop Saudi-backed forces from taking control of Shehn border crossing with Oman. Govt attempted to calm situation by replacing al-Mahra governor. In south, govt and separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) failed to fulfil commitments in Saudi-brokered “Phase 2” roadmap to implement Nov Riyadh Agreement; notably, govt delayed appointment of security chief and governor in Aden following STC’s refusal to allow presidential guard to return to Aden. STC mid-Feb requested greater UN participation in implementation of agreement. Army regiment on island of Socotra 27 Feb switched sides and pledged allegiance to STC.
The UN General Assembly kicks off on 17 September amid general scepticism about the world body’s effectiveness in an era of rising great-power competition. But the UN is far from paralysed. Here are seven crisis spots where it can make a positive difference for peace.
Yemen’s anti-Huthi coalition has begun to splinter, with sharp fighting between Saudi- and Emirati-backed elements in the country’s south. With UN assistance, the Gulf monarchies should urgently broker a ceasefire as a prelude to an expanded peace process encompassing southern secessionists and others now excluded.
The UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement to stop fighting around Yemen’s Red Sea city of Hodeida is faltering as violence on other front lines and across the Saudi border escalates. The UN and P5 should stabilise the Stockholm Agreement and push conflict parties toward national peace talks.
Two successive U.S. administrations have backed the Saudi-led coalition’s intervention in Yemen, helping deepen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Congress should continue pressing the White House to end this support, while working to strengthen its war powers role in the future.
A Saudi-led coalition attack on the city of Hodeida risks plunging millions of Yemenis into famine and will meet fierce resistance from Huthi rebels. The U.S. should stop enabling coalition offensives and international stakeholders must quickly place Hodeida under UN control.
Now [Yemen's] fate is linked to a much bigger picture in a three-dimensional chess game.
[The Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] hasn’t posed the kind of threat to the West it did a decade ago in a number of years.
For now, neither the Houthis nor the Saudis wish to abandon the talks, but the de-escalation process is under severe strain.
A successful agreement [between the Yemeni government and southern secessionists] would keep a lid on violence long enough to allow progress in other parts of the country.
It has been politically more convenient to lay the blame for Houthis at Iran’s door than to say that the Houthis’ rise was the product of a series of internal political miscalculations and misplaced international priorities.
Without a political settlement, Yemen threatened to play a role as a trigger or to become embroiled in a wider regional conflict, in particular if a Houthi or Houthi-claimed attack was successful.
Out of a Moment of Crisis, a Chance for a Solution.
Originally published in Foreign Affairs
For the first time in years, a viable pathway to peace in Yemen is in view. But obstacles remain, chiefly the gaps between the conflict parties’ positions.
Since the September attack on Saudi oil facilities, Riyadh and the Houthis have taken a step back from all-out war. All parties, including the United States, should seize this rare opportunity to resolve the conflict.
Originally published in Foreign Policy
A Huthi suspension of hostilities in Yemen and an apparently positive Saudi Arabian response offer a chance to avoid regional conflagration. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2019 - Third Update for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to encourage inclusive dialogue between the warring factions, which can lead to intra-Yemeni negotiations.
Watch List Updates complement International Crisis Group’s annual Watch List, most recently published in January 2019. These early-warning publications identify major conflict situations in which prompt action, driven or supported by the European Union and its member states, would generate stronger prospects for peace. The third update to the Watch List 2019 includes entries on Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Sudan and Yemen.