Riyadh approves of Yemen ceasefire conditioned on buffer zone, Iran lurks in the shadows

Houthis' internal strife, Iranian influence could hinder deal.
Wednesday 18/11/2020
Iran's newly appointed ambassador to Yemen Hassan Eyrlou, centre, attends a religious rally in Sana'a, Yemen, October 29. (AP)
Iran's newly appointed ambassador to Yemen Hassan Eyrlou, centre, attends a religious rally in Sana'a, Yemen, October 29. (AP)

ADEN – According to the Reuters news agency, Saudi Arabia has conveyed to the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen during high-level talks its approval of a United Nations proposal for a comprehensive ceasefire on the condition that the Iran-aligned group agree to a buffer zone along the kingdom's southern borders.

The proposal is part of an initiative referred to as “the Joint Declaration” by UN Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths.

The Reuters report, which quotes three informed sources, confirms earlier exclusive reporting by The Arab Weekly about an internationally supported Saudi move to end the war in Yemen.

Sources point out that the Saudi government is open to international moves to end the war in Yemen, already in its sixth year, if there are guarantees for Saudi national security putting an end to threats posed by the activities of the Houthi militia in Yemen.

The sources said that Riyadh has requested more security guarantees from the Houthis, including a buffer zone along the border with northern Yemen, until a UN-supported transitional government is in place.

Riyadh wants Houthi forces to free up a corridor along the Saudi border to prevent incursions and artillery fire.

In return, the kingdom will ease the air and sea blockades within the United Nations’ ceasefire proposal, which already includes stopping cross-border attacks.

In previous reports, The Arab Weekly revealed that meetings between Saudi officials and representatives of the Houthi group were taking place under American and UN sponsorship in both Oman and Jordan. The meetings focused on the prospect of the Houthis abandoning their alignment with the Iranian agenda and engaging in a peace dialogue to form a transitional government in Yemen in which they would have a place.

Martin Griffiths, United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen speaks, in Glion, Switzerland, last September. (REUTERS)
Martin Griffiths, United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen speaks, in Glion, Switzerland, last September. (Reuters)

Yemeni political sources previously spoke to The Arab Weekly of a struggle within the Houthis between a relatively pragmatic current and a more dogmatic faction linked to Tehran and rejecting any rapprochement with Yemen’s Arab neighbours. This faction does not accept any formula that does not first pass through the filter of Iranian interests.

Saudi Arabia, which leads the Arab coalition in Yemen, is seeking to break the vicious circle of the conflict in Yemen by taking advantage of expected shifts in US foreign policy following Democratic candidate Joe Biden's victory in presidential elections, and of mounting indications that the international community is ready to close the file of the war in Yemen by supporting an international formula that, according to Arab Weekly sources, will be put in place through UN Security Council resolutions.

Analysts believe that the Saudi offer to establish a buffer zone as a condition to support efforts aimed at reaching a political settlement to the conflict may constitute a milestone in the negotiated process for Yemen, even though many expect this conflict not to be completely over and to evolve into to a less severe and more local level.

The Yemeni arena has recently witnessed a number of noteworthy developments, including the arrival in Sana'a of Tehran’s top manager of the Yemeni file as Iran's ambassador to Sana'a. This was interpreted as an indication of Tehran’s fear of being sidelined in an imminent agreement between its Houthi allies and the Arab coalition.

Yemeni sources familiar with developments on the Yemeni file do not expect the success of any separate deal between the Arab coalition and the Houthis under UN and international sponsorship to end the war in Yemen, given the scope of the pro-Tehran ideological and military current within the Houthi group's influence.  Preliminary data indicate that this current stands behind the physical and political liquidation of some Houthi leaders, such as the recent assassination of the Houthis' Youth Minister Hassan Zaid, against the backdrop of his pragmatic stances calling for the conclusion of a purely Yemeni deal with Arab coalition countries away from the complexities of Iranian considerations.