How Do the International, Regional and Local Communities Look at the Yemeni Crisis?


Tue, 07-09-2021 01:59 PM, Aden

Farida Ahmed | South24 

It has been 7 years since the beginning of the Yemeni War, after the Houthi coup against the state in 2014, followed by the Operation Decisive Storm (Asifat Alhazm) led by the Arab Coalition, and the dramatic development of the crisis during the last years till now, which has witnessed transformations at different political, military, economic and humanitarian levels along with changes in the dynamics of influence centres, regarding control and power. Those changes carried, among their folds, many details and events, sometimes related to agreements, negotiations, and other times relevant to discord and more internal fighting.

International vision

If we want to answer the main question of this article’s headline about the international vision towards Yemen crisis, it can be described as “somewhat frustrating”, which is not limited to being basically as a Saudi Iranian file. Previously, Yemen was a hotbed for the jihadist organizations, top of which is the AQAP, or it was just an international lane for the Marine navigation movement through the strategic Bab Al Mandab Strait in South Yemen. This is how the world knows about Yemen, North and South. For example, most western researchers, including those conducted by the New york-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), identified the Yemeni crisis and discord as having “old religious grounds”. One of these reports said: “the Sunni KSA, and the Shiite Iran are vying for the Islamic leadership in the region, and they use such a sectarian division to proceed their regional leadership aspirations”. (1)

At large, this seems shocking, but the international community was not aware of the events’ details and their internal complexities in Yemen till the intervention of the Arab Coalition, led by the KSA, in the 2015 latest War. Until this moment, many western researchers and analysts have been still not familiar with the simplest local issues, which were a core reason behind the eruption of the war in 2014, and the prior 1994 War between the two Yemens (North and South), -the source of the South issue- or the 6 Wars of Saada, that began in 2004 in North Yemen. In other words, the outstanding unsolved issues require a more comprehensive understanding of their cores, on a broader level than a conflict that erupted in 2014. This led to that escalation of the crisis to its current status.

This vision is confirmed by the media coverage of the Yemeni War, especially in the human rights’ file during it, and its relevant violations which are documented against the KSA. It's no exaggeration to say that without the regional power’ intervention in the war, whether the Arab Coalition, led by Riyadh, or the Houthis, backed by Iran, the only international ally which recognized them as a legal authority rather than a coup, the international community would ignore, or at least would not given the same degree of interest for an internal war, like what happened in the previous civil wars.

Otherwise, it would be easy for the far states to gamble on participation and support in the Yemeni War, unlike the nearby countries which try to temporize their decisions, especially those that border Yemen, and have maritime interests with it. For example, Iran, as a regional far country, backed the Houthis militarily and financially before and after their control on Sanaa on September 21st, 2014. This support has been confirmed by many Yemeni, Iranian and western sources. In contrast, despite the participation of the Arab Coalition countries in the war, some Gulf states either suspended their participation in the early years of the war, or did not participate from the beginning, like the Sultanate of Oman, due to the complexities of the war, or the repercussions it could cause, or for other reasons related to the policy of each Gulf country.

It also became clear that the biggest barrier for the international community’s interest in the Yemen war, besides being a Saudi-Iranian war with its conflict of interests and its agents’ struggle among themselves on the ground, has been  the lack of understanding of the contexts  that led to the crisis and its consequences, as a result of the false media campaign  by what western media regard as proxies on the ground,  or even by the countries of the region themselves, through confusion and misinformation on the reality of the course of events.

For example, the media misinformation against the Arab Coalition by some international organizations or KSA’s rivals in the region served the political and propaganda goals of some countries, including the USA, as President Biden called, in his first foreign speech, for an end to the Yemeni War, declaring halting the American support and arms sales to the Saudi-led military Coalition (2). The US position seemed directed against the KSA, rather than a desire to end the war in Yemen.

Regional vision

Since the Arab Coalition intervened in the 2015 War in response to President Hadi's request to support what he called "Yemeni legitimacy", the crisis has no longer been just a matter of conflict between Yemeni parties, but has turned into a conflict between regional powers, top of which are Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UAE, Qatar, Turkey and the rest of the countries that participated in Operation Decisive Storm. This intervention revealed basic transformations and influential roles for the countries of the region in the war equation, in regarding strengthening the influence of the warring parties on the ground, or in terms of weakening them.

As for Saudi Arabia, in addition to securing its borders as a neighbouring country to Yemen, due to what it sees as an escalating Iranian back for the Houthis, it sees Yemen as an important strategic location. Through the Bab Al Mandab Strait which connects the Red Sea with the Indian Ocean, the KSA can export its oil to many countries in the world. In addition, Riyadh is trying to impose its influence and hegemony in the region, amid the lack of power balance in the region, which could pose a threat to the stability of the region if powers, such as Iran and Israel, became the only owners of nuclear power in return for the weakness of other forces.

As for Iran, seeing Riyadh plunge into a long-term conflict in Yemen, as well as its preoccupation with its details and ramifications, in addition to draining its economic, military and security capabilities, are what Tehran aspires to. The KSA’s interest in the issues of its Yemeni neighbors distracts it from those of Iran’s neighbors, “Iraq and Syria”, which may constitute a threat and a burden for Iran when the conflict and support move to its nearby opponents, on its ground, which hinders the achievement of Tehran’s interests there.

In parallel, the complications of the Gulf crisis in 2017 through severing of relations with Qatar from several countries, including, the KSA, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, and Yemen, along with others which reduced their diplomatic representation there, have repercussions on the Yemeni crisis. The media campaign against Saudi Arabia and the UAE in Yemeni War has intensified, especially since Turkey was leading it alongside Qatar - through the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen, especially in the areas under the control of the Hadi government in Marib and Taiz.  This has made an effect, even at the level of the fighting fronts, which recently seemed in consensus with the Houthis, by relieving pressure on some fronts, especially when confrontations intensify among the fronts led by southern forces affiliated with the STC.

A quick look at the vision of other Gulf states for the crisis about Yemen, which either suspended their participation or did not participate, such as Kuwait and Oman, reveals that they see the conflict as an extra burden added to their internal burdens, in case they are directly involved in it. Therefore, they worked to alienate themselves from it, and to, instead, direct their efforts and efforts in ways that paved the way for peace.

Additionally, many features have emerged from the political and economic changes among the regional countries in recent months. It seems that there is a desire to rearrange relations between them, and to search for new partnerships and interests that could directly or indirectly affect the crisis in Yemen, especially after the fall of Afghanistan in the hands of the Taliban, as the American exit from Kabul upset the balance of trust  in Washington's role which became  a source of doubt for the regional powers in the region as they have  sought to settle their outstanding files among themselves, and benefit from the new changes  to serve their interests.

This opens the door to several questions, whether the international community, led by the United States, will seek to hand over North Yemen to the Houthis, as the case in Afghanistan, chiefly,  if the Houthis pledged to fight  the AQAP and ISIS in Yemen, and whether the KSA feels the seriousness of the matter,  pushing it to make alliances with the Houthis to preserve its borders, especially since the dramatic scene in Yemen,  the easy falling of fronts,  and handing  them to the  Houthis smoothly broke up any  remaining trust in the Hadi government and its National Army, amid its corruption which  has been proven in many fields, with the relationship between its decision makers with  “terrorist” organizations, which was discussed in a previous paper by the “South24 Center” (3) Moreover, Washington under the Biden administration is trying to close many of its outstanding  files in the Middle East, and in particular,  Yemen, as its  top priority, by appointing a Special US Envoy.

Additionally, the Houthis believe they are too powerful to discuss a settlement with internal parties, amid the weakness and the fragility of the internationally recognized government. Therefore, the possible scenario for the Arab Coalition states is the direct affinity with the Houthis in North Yemen, and to strengthen the STC’s influence in South Yemen, especially as it proved reliable in fighting the AQAP and ISIS in its areas of control, as well as the organization of its military units, and securing its fronts and regions.

Local vision

It seems there are no looming political solutions, due to the lack of seriousness among the conflict’s local parties in Yemen to end the war, and their refusal to give concessions, as well as the influence of the regional backers on the war’s tracks according to what suits their policies and allies on ground, in spite of the international efforts exerted to real solutions that pave for peace in Yemen.

As for the local community, no single party till now has been able to serve the interests of the community. The Houthis represent the sectarian idea and the Iranian project. Similarly, the legitimacy, due to corruption, the multiple regional loyalties, and the lack of leadership that can employ the diversity that represents the largest segment, on the political, military, sectarian, cultural and other levels, no longer represents a spectrum of society. Consequently, the idea of a single representation of the anti-Houthi party is not available, so it has become necessary to have several parties, each of which represents its community and its cause, so that it can be said that there is representation in the community.

There is another, more important matter, relevant to the absence of a single party that achieves the interests of the local community, especially if the negotiations remain in their bilateral shape, in accordance with Security Council Resolution NO.  2216, which complicates the conflict if parties are ignored in favor of non-active parties that lack influence or power on the ground.  It is notable that power is not limited to the military aspect only, but is extended to the popular base, presence and acceptance by the local community of the party that represents it and its issues.

At the practical level, the international community needs a mechanism that absorbs all parties as part of the negotiation operation. This is a guaranteed approach that would understand the complexities and the root of the conflict.  neglecting the local community’s interests in favour of the international and regional ones would fuel and exacerbate the crisis, as well as hinder the peace building efforts. Additionally, putting an end to the conflict, while not paying attention to the interests and the roots of internal crisis in the local community would lead to a catastrophic failure. AS a result, the international community won’t reach the desirable outcome because of neglecting the interests of the local community. 

Resident Fellow with South24 Center, researcher and journalist in political affairs

Photo: AFP

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