The Conflict in Yemen Is More Than a Proxy War
The Conflict in Yemen Is More Than a Proxy War
Op-Ed / Middle East & North Africa 1 minutes

The Conflict in Yemen Is More Than a Proxy War

Why Local Grievances Cannot Be Overlooked in Any Peace Process

The eight-year civil war in Yemen has created what has been called the world’s worst manmade humanitarian crisis. Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis have been killed and some four million people displaced. According to the United Nations, 21.6 million people in the country require humanitarian assistance and 80 percent of the population struggles to put food on the table. Given the extent of the catastrophe, it is perhaps no surprise that observers rejoiced when the Saudi ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed Al-Jaber, shook hands with leaders of the Houthi rebel group, which is allied with Iran, in April. It appeared to be a breakthrough in a devastating, unending conflict.

Both Iran and Saudi Arabia have been active in Yemen, taking opposite sides in the war. The Saudis sent their forces into the country as part of a coalition effort in 2015 after their ally, interim Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, was deposed by the Houthis. The Iranian government has thrown its support behind the Houthis, fellow Shiites who control swaths of northern Yemen and want to expand their control to encompass the rest of the country. 

Unwinding this complex proxy war has been nearly impossible, which is why the April talks offered so much hope. Hans Grundberg, the UN special envoy for Yemen, declared the meeting between the Saudis and the Houthi rebels “the closest Yemen has been to real progress toward lasting peace” since the war began. The breakthrough can be traced in large part to a sudden shift on the Saudi side. Riyadh backed a UN-brokered truce in April 2022, which has largely held even after formally lapsing in October. A period of relative calm on the Saudi border enabled serious negotiations. The Saudi delegation’s April visit to Sanaa, and an Omani-backed mediation effort that preceded it, showcased Riyadh’s determination to abandon its military campaign and seek a way out of the war. A Beijing-brokered agreement between Tehran and Riyadh in April restored diplomatic relations between the two countries and reinforced this new approach.

The full article can be read on the Foreign Affairs′ website.

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