Yemen's war rages on as peace efforts falter

A Yemeni school girl stands outside a school on March 16, 2017, that was damage in an air strike in the southern Yemeni city of Taez.
5 min read
21 February, 2022

Deadly airstrikes, fierce ground fighting, and missile attacks have dominated Yemen’s conflict since the outset of 2022.

The Saudi-led coalition has launched a torrent of air raids on Houthi-controlled territories, particularly Sanaa. Ground combat between Yemen's pro-government forces and the Houthi group has also surged on several battlegrounds.

Meanwhile, Houthi missiles and drones keep finding their way to Saudi Arabia and, most recently, the UAE. Such a reality reflects the complexity of the war but also lays bare the failure of UN-US-led peace efforts.

Neither the UN nor the US has managed to defuse the conflict or help de-escalate hostilities through their special envoys. Several months have elapsed since the current UN and US envoys were appointed, and signs of peace are becoming harder to find across Yemen.

"There has been a noticeable uptick in violence since the beginning of this year in Yemen"

On Tuesday, 15 February, Hans Grundberg pointed out that the recent escalation, particularly Houthi attacks on the UAE and Saudi Arabia, "indicate how this conflict risks spiralling out of control unless serious efforts are urgently made by the Yemeni parties, the region and the international community to end the conflict".

In August, the UN nominated Grundberg as its fourth new envoy to Yemen. His statement is an admission of the dead-end his efforts have hit and points to a conflict that will not subside any time soon.

The UN believes that military power alone cannot resolve the conflict. "Dialogue and compromise are required, if Yemenis are not to be left suffering until the parties are tired of fighting," he said.

But as destructive as it is, most parties to the conflict are firm believers that the military option is the only viable means to achieve their objectives.

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There has been a noticeable uptick in violence since the beginning of this year in Yemen. In January alone, airstrikes killed 139 civilians and injured 287, according to the Yemen Data Project.

One single airstrike on a prison in Saada last month claimed the lives of 70 people. These acts of violence further encourage antagonism between the warring sides and highlight the lack of trust between them.

Last Wednesday, the Houthi leadership in Sanaa began a mobilisation campaign named "Yemen Hurricane" to attract more fighters and employ more resources to the war. The Houthi-appointed president Mahdi al-Mashat called for people in areas under their rule to join their forces to counter what he called the "invaders."

Mashat stated that the mobilisation campaign would include Yemeni civilians, elites, and officials in forming a response to the crimes of Saudi Arabia and its allies.

A senior political researcher based in Houthi-dominated Sanaa told The New Arab that hopes for a political solution in the country have all but faded.

Yemen - Houthi - GETTY
Neither the UN nor the US has managed to defuse the conflict or help de-escalate hostilities through their special envoys. [Getty]

"Those living outside Yemen can talk hopefully about peaceful solutions in Yemen. This is because they have not fully understood how the war has fragmented the country and ruined the social fabric. "

The researcher, who spoke on condition of anonymity, argued that it would be difficult to persuade the Houthis to trust peace talks, with the group relying entirely on force to survive and succeed in politics.

"When the new UN envoy and the US envoy were appointed last year, we felt a little optimistic,” he said. “Now another year has ended, but no positive result has materialised. Sadly, the current escalation heralds that an end to the war is still distant."

Early last year, the US selected Timothy Lenderking, a diplomat known for his deep knowledge of the Gulf region, as its first American envoy to Yemen. The appointment of the American envoy signalled a new effort by the Biden administration to push rival parties in Yemen towards ending the war.

"Those living outside Yemen can talk hopefully about peaceful solutions [...] this is because they have not fully understood how the war has fragmented the country and ruined the social fabric"

While the former US Administration in the final days of Donald Trump's presidency designated the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), Biden's Administration overturned the decision in the first weeks of its tenure.

The move aimed to appease the Houthis and encourage them to engage in constructive peace talks. The outcome so far has been disheartening.

Removing the Houthis from the FTO list has not incentivised them to offer concessions. Meanwhile, earlier this year Biden stated that blacklisting the Houthis is once again "under consideration," reflecting the failure of US policy in dealing with the group.

Considering the US attitude, it can be inferred that the Saudi-led Arab coalition will continue to receive American military support. This indicates that the war will not abate any time soon, with the humanitarian tragedy in Yemen set to worsen.

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This has prompted UN officials to warn against blacklisting the Houthi group, fearing it could hasten a famine in the country.

"What is the likely humanitarian impact? The answer is a large-scale famine on a scale that we have not seen for nearly 40 years," Mark Lowcock, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said last month.

As long as the fighting continues, any solution to the conflict will become harder to achieve, widening the already deep schism between the warring sides.

With seven years of war and ineffective diplomacy, Yemen’s battlefields are still deadly. The UN and US have been trying to stop the tragedy, but their attempts keep faltering. 

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