The only certainty in Yemen

Sunday 26/06/2016

It is hard to imagine the UN-led inter-Yemeni talks leading to any political breakthrough, particularly as the negotiators on both sides are unable to take any major decisions them­selves.

The negotiations in Kuwait have reached a dead end and the military situation on the ground, following the intervention of the Gulf coalition, has similarly reached an impasse, even if the Iranian project for Yemen has been dealt a a fatal blow.

Iranian-backed Houthi rebels took control of large parts of Yemeni territory in late 2014, seeking to apply Hezbollah’s experiences in Lebanon in the southern Arabian peninsula. After taking control of Sana’a in September, Ansar Allah — as the Houthis call themselves — seemed to believe that the entire country was within their grasp, particularly after they imposed the Peace and Partnership power-sharing agreement on the government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

After allying with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and military units under his control, they sought to take control of the rest of Yemen, taking over the vital port of Hodeidah and moving to encircle Bab el Mandeb and Aden. It seemed that soon all of Yemen would be under their control.

However, the Houthis bit off more than they could chew. Even backed by Saleh loyalists, they could not expand and take control of southern Yemen while leaving enough assets in the field to administer and keep control of areas they had already taken.

To put it simply, the Houthis did not know how to run a country. They specialised in utilising empty revolutionary slogans, such as those used by Hezbollah, to attract and incite supporters but this does not help in running a country.

After the takeover of Sana’a, Houthi leader Abdelmalik al-Houthi spoke about “revolutionary legitimacy” and the establishment of a “new system” to take the place of the old. Al-Houthi seemed to think himself another Lenin or Mao Zedong or Castro, forgetting that he is someone who had never even left Yemen before and knows nothing about political or revolutionary philosophy.

There is a new reality on the ground in Yemen. What the Saudi-led Operation Decisive Storm has achieved in the country confirms that Arab countries are able to take action on this scale and achieve their objectives. This was confirmed by Emirati Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash, who praised UAE forces for carrying out their duties as part of Operation Decisive Storm with “courage and professionalism”. “We will continue our role with our ally Saudi Arabia until the Gulf alliance announces an end to the war,” he added.

So the war will continue, as will the search for a political solution. This cannot happen until both sides can reach a political formula that establishes a new Yemen that has nothing to do with the previous system — based on a central government — but which also does not seek to re-establish the previous two-state system either.

At present, neither the government nor the Houthis are able to secure complete victory. While the Houthis must not be allowed to turn Sana’a and its environs into another Gaza Strip, the Houthis must also stop putting forward terms that they know will be instantly rejected and the government must also be prepared to make some concessions.

The only certainty left in Yemen is that even if no political solution can take place in the required timeframe at the Kuwait talks, the Saudi-Emirati military alliance has confirmed that it is capable of defending and safeguarding the Gulf from Iran’s regional project, which was based on the idea that the Arab Gulf states were asleep at the switch. Operation Decisive Storm has confirmed that the Arab Gulf is wide awake.