Political solution appears elusive as fighting continues in Yemen
London - With Yemen still volatile, Saudi Arabia and its allies have once again ramped up their air campaign against Iranian-allied Houthi militias.
Arab coalition forces conducted a series of air strikes on Sana’a for the first time since scaling back military operations. There were at least five air strikes on military positions and an area near the presidential palace compound at dawn on April 26th while warships pounded an area near the port of the southern city of Aden, Reuters reported.
After nearly four weeks of military action, Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, at the request of Yemen’s President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, decided to cut back on military operations and launch Operation Renewal of Hope, which, according to the Saudi government, is designed to enhance humanitarian and medical assistance to the Yemeni people, kick-start the political process based on UN Security Council Resolution 2216, the GCC Initiative and the outcome of the Yemeni National Dialogue.
But a few hours after the launch of the initiative, Houthi rebels seized a brigade base from forces loyal to Hadi, which led to the resumption of air strikes. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s National Guard entered the fray for the first time, arriving in the southern Najran region. The kingdom’s elite fighting force is there to protect the southern border of Saudi Arabia against potential threats, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.
Adding to the situation, Yemen’s exiled foreign minister, Riyadh Yaseen, rejected calls for peace talks by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. “These calls are unacceptable after all the destruction Ali Abdullah Saleh has caused. There can be no place for Saleh in any future political talks,” the foreign minister said in a news conference in London.
With the spike in military operations, the question arises of where this leaves the much-needed political process.
“Currently both sides are insistent on not giving in to the other’s demands,” said Hakim Almasmari, publisher and editor-in-chief of Yemen Post. “This will lead to a new civil war in Yemen or a new Iran- Saudi proxy war.”
Regarding what the Houthis want, Almasmari, told The Arab Weekly: “They have no demands. They are not the oppressed side. They continue to expand in new provinces, taking over new territories that were never under their control to begin with.
“The Saudis are demanding they evacuate these areas and the Houthis are not, which is the reason these air strikes are continuing. As long as the Houthis continue to spread, Yemen will pay the price.”
On whether Iran can play a positive role in trying to resolve the conflict, Almasmari stressed that “Iran is playing a role in Yemen right know and the Houthis continue their activities because of the role of Iran, any further intervention from Iran is going to make it worse because we’ve reached this point only because of Iranian intervention. What Yemen really needs is compromise within its political factions, who are looking for followers and not partners, and that is something we Yemenis reject.”
Iran’s involvement in Yemen has been well documented and its efforts to destabilise the country were never limited to its support of the Houthis.
In 2013, US Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein accused Iran of actively trying to undermine the Yemeni government by supporting southern secessionists.
Feierstein revealed that exiled former leader of the Yemeni Socialist Party, Ali Salem al-Beidh, was receiving financial support from Iran and that there was “no doubt that he is responsible for efforts to foil the Gulf initiative (for democratic transition in Yemen) by supporting the calls for secession”.
Additionally, Iran’s military support of the Houthis has also been thoroughly detailed. In January 2013 Yemeni authorities with the help of the US Navy intercepted an Iranian ship off the cost of Yemen carrying a cache of weapons that included surface-to-air missiles intended for the Houthi rebels. And in October 2009, Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news channel reported that the Yemeni Navy stopped an Iranian vessel carrying anti-tank weaponry. Crew members on the ship were weapons experts travelling to Yemen to replace Iranian fighters who were injured fighting alongside the Houthis.
On whether the Houthis are really looking for a peaceful political solution, Fahad Nazer, a political analyst with JTG, Inc highlighted that the Security Council resolution on Yemen, which passed almost unanimously, reflects the prevailing sentiment in the international community and puts most of the blame for the current turmoil in Yemen on the Houthi rebels and their allies.
“The Houthis don’t appear to believe in the efficacy of peaceful resolution of conflicts and seem to want to impose their will on the rest of Yemen through the use of force. The Houthis’ intransigence and belligerence has been reflected in both words and deeds. They even rejected the UNSC resolution.” Nazer told The Arab Weekly.
The Saudi security analyst went on to say that the recent televised address by their leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi seemed to blame everyone — especially Saudi Arabia and the United States — for the current crisis in Yemen but refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing on his part.
“The Houthis and their allies, including former President Saleh, have to put the well-being and security of the people of Yemen first and realise that they cannot adopt the ‘It’s my way or the highway’ approach indefinitely. They have to make compromises, like everyone else,” Nazer added.