Yemen's narrowing path towards peace

Yemen's narrowing path towards peace
5 min read
02 November, 2022
Analysis: One month after it expired, efforts to revive Yemen's UN-sponsored truce are deadlocked, as recent escalations between the government and the Houthi movement usher in renewed fighting.

Regional and international efforts to revive the UN-sponsored truce in Yemen have not paid off. Since the ceasefire broke down on the 2nd of October, the attitudes of the warring sides have been discouraging, and their actions are leading the country towards a harder deadlock.

Two recent developments confirmed that the Yemeni rivals are nowhere near a negotiated political settlement. The first was the Houthi attack on a government-controlled port in Hadramout province in southern Yemen. 

The second was the government's decision to designate the Houthis as a terrorist organisation. These two matters raised a new and formidable challenge for the peace process and again put the country on a path to war.

"With this escalation, war has overtaken peace as the likely scenario if Houthi demands go unmet"

With much pride, the Houthis claimed responsibility for attacking the Al-Dhabba oil port with two drones. They have many more to launch in the coming days should the government keep shipping crude oil abroad.

While this attack demonstrates the Houthi military capability, it also exposes their political and military ambitions. The port is in Yemen's south, which is not under their control. But they allege they must protect the country's resources, wherever they may be.

Houthi officials described their escalation as a warning strike. The purpose was "to prevent the continued prevalent looting of oil wealth and the failure to allocate it to serve the people... and pay the salaries of the employees".

With this escalation, war has overtaken peace as the likely scenario if Houthi demands go unmet. During a field visit to the frontlines in Madghal district in Marib on 29 October, Houthi-appointed defence minister Major General Mohammed Nasser Al-Atifi said the "aggression countries" have limited choices, asserting that the Arab coalition has two options: “a truce and salaries or missiles and drones”.

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Rebel fighters on the ground are alert and ready for renewed battles. Yunis, a Houthi fighter in Marib, returned to Sanaa one week ago after being granted a vacation.

"We [soldiers] are waiting for orders from the [Houthi] leadership. No one can stop us if we receive the go-ahead to advance towards Marib city," he told The New Arab

Since 2015, Marib has seen the bloodiest battles between Yemeni government forces and Houthi fighters as the latter strive to wrest control of the oil-rich province.

According to Yunis, the Houthi group will not strike a successful deal with their opponents and ruling out the possibility of renewed confrontations would be naïve.

"We can't accept to share power with any local force or party that adheres to a hostile foreign agenda,” he added.

Yemen's narrowing path towards peace
Recruits of the Houthi movement take part in a military parade held by the movement despite the UN-sponsored truce, on 15 September 2022 in Sanaa, Yemen. [Getty]

Blacklisting the Houthis has little impact

The Houthi attack on the Al-Dhabba oil port in Hadramout was the first defiant move after the expiry of the truce. For the Yemeni government, targeting the port is a terrorist activity carried out by a terrorist group. In response, the National Defence Council (NDC) of the UN-recognised government immediately designated the Houthi group as a terrorist organisation.

The NDC warned individuals and entities against cooperating with the Houthi group, saying strict punishment would be handed out to those who support the rebel movement.

In truth, such a decision does not severely threaten the group. However, it amounts to giving up on the viability of talks. This is dangerous, and it heralds endless turbulence.

Abdulsalam Mohammed, the head of Abaad Studies & Research Centre, believes the Yemeni government's designation is a move that may lay the groundwork for military action. 

"Listing [the Houthis] as terror operatives is unlikely to weaken their influence or soften their attitude. Instead, it will intensify the humanitarian ordeal in territories under their control"

"Classifying the Houthis as a terrorist organisation intends to expand the legality of any military operation so that it takes an international and regional dimension,” Mohammed said, adding that “the Yemeni government can request international support, including quality weapons, modern technologies, and even intelligence information in accordance with the anti-terror agreements".

Linking the Houthi group to terror is not a new notion. In 2021, the former US administration nominated the group as a foreign terrorist organisation, a resolution that brought about a globally divided reaction. The designation was revoked after president Joe Biden assumed power.

Since the Houthis' rise to power in 2014, many have argued that their use of excessive force and their intolerance towards opposition qualify them for the terror designation. But listing them as terror operatives is unlikely to weaken their influence or soften their attitude. Instead, it will intensify the humanitarian ordeal in territories under their control.

The group’s support base is large, and the area they dominate is vast. Therefore, eradicating or defeating them is a challenging task, which will beget an unspeakable catastrophe if carried out. 

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Arab coalition abandons the military option in Yemen

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen since 2015 no longer threatens the Houthis with military force. It instead criticises them, urges the international community to pressure the group, and calls for a peaceful solution to the conflict. The coalition appears to have abandoned the military option to defeat the Iran-allied group.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the coalition's leading members, denounced the latest Houthi port attack in Hadramout, hailing it as terrorist activity by the Houthi militants. Their statements reflect their war fatigue and reluctance to resume any military operations in Yemen.

They prefer the continuation of Houthi rule in northern Yemen over the resumption of war. Such a stance has frustrated the Yemeni government, which has received Saudi military and financial support over the last seven years of war.

"The [Houthi] group's support base is large, and the area they dominate is vast. Therefore, eradicating or defeating them is a challenging task"

Sultan Al-Barakani, the speaker of the Yemeni parliament, said the reliance on diplomacy is a "farce" promoted by the UN envoy to Yemen. A political solution between the government and the Houthis, he said, is an impossible task.

"We hope that the brothers in the Gulf will not turn us into a humanitarian issue begging for a solution in front of an enemy who has no place for peace in his mind," Barakani added.

The writer is a Yemeni journalist, reporting from Yemen, whose identity we are protecting for their security.