Yemen: Features of Political and Security Interactions in 2022


Thu, 20-01-2022 06:13 PM, Aden

Eman Zahran (South24) 

It is apparently too early to establish effective peace in Yemen as the entire last year's field and political interactions raise more questions about the crisis prospects in 2022 as shown below:
First- the dynamics of 2021

2021 has been considered a year of qualitative transformations in the Yemeni issue after a stalemate in the political and field tracks following the 2018 Stockholm Agreement.
The most prominent of such transformations is shown in the scale of field/military moves - especially regarding the Houthis - which has the main impact on the political process's tracks and the various roles played by the actors engaged in the Yemeni issue regionally and internationally.
It worth mentioning that the current Houthi project in the Yemeni arena is not a momentary one. It took about three decades to originate and develop until it reached its current form.
This passed through three stages, each lasting about a decade [1] the first decade was the stage of emergence, while the second is related to the six wars and conflicts within the state. The third is the decade of empowerment and disputes over the state itself.  
Accordingly, the Houthis in the third decade relied upon the "pressure cards" strategy, given the features of their moves in 2021 which sought to achieve a number of goals as follows: 
1- Expansion of field influence: As the Houthis resorted to employing their military tools for redrawing the field maps of the Yemen conflict’s geography. This could be illustrated in the following scenes:
- The Houthi's control of Al-Bayda governorate since mid-September subsequently became one of the negotiation cards for any incoming political settlement. Moreover, Al-Bayda gave the Houthis the space to advance towards Southern governorates, especially Shabwa before liberating these districts at the beginning of 2022 in “Operation South Tornado” by the Southern Giants Brigades. 
- The Houthi's ongoing field moves towards the city of “Marib” for many important considerations, especially that Marib has been the last bastion of the internationally-recognized “Government” in North Yemen. Its strategic and economic importance is represented in “oil and gas fields” as well as being the geopolitical gate for expansion towards Hadramout in South. 
- The different moves between the Houthis and the Yemeni Army in some field points, as part of the group’s strategy to push the military tool in return for political dialogue. 
2- The external field expansion: By the Houthi expanding the scope of their attacks beyond the Yemeni borders, especially towards the KSA, where they target oil facilities, strategic infrastructure, and vital institutions in some areas such as Jazan, Najran, and Asir. This is attributed to the geographical proximity and the joint borders between the three areas and the governorate of Saada which is controlled by the Houthis. 
This comes in the form of a number of political and security messages, top of which are promoting their propaganda about their military capabilities on various internal and external fronts as well as confusing the KSA and the Arab Coalition to decrease their airstrikes against the Houthi locations inside Yemen. This serves the group’s expansion strategy in some axes and secures more field control. 
3- Confusing the Southern scene: This directly impacted the Houthis' moves towards the Southern governorate of Shabwa last September for two goals: the first is the attempt to expand in all other field areas; the second is confusing the scene in parallel with the “movement” in South Yemen. This emerged in the attempt to penetrate Shabwa or through targeting “Al-Anad Base” at the end of August 2021. 
Attacking this Base is related to a number of messages, the first of which is to assert the Houthi strategy to expand outside their areas under their control. The second one is to achieve qualitative strikes against the official strategic axes such as Al-Anad Base which is seen as the Southern safety valve. The third message is to confuse the anti-Houthi front by exploiting the state of “uncertainty” that controls South Yemen based on a number of determinants including the lack of trust between the internationally-recognized government and the STC. This is in addition to protests and demonstrations in September in the liberated areas against the social and economic conditions and the deteriorating services. [2]

As for the third point, there are grounds for what is known as “political dynamics in South'' which began to float on the surface in late 2019 after both the internationally-recognized Government and the STC signed on the “Riyadh Agreement” through a Saudi mediation. The Agreement aims at achieving several goals: The first is to unify the anti-Houthi bloc, and the second is to engage the STC and other Southern parties in a government that depends on sharing authority. The third goal is to appoint Southern officials in the Southern governorates while the fourth one is to merge between the two parties’ military forces.

On the other hand, after renegotiating and modifying the Riyadh Agreement in the summer of 2020, its implementation process has stagnated. This led to more troubling events in South Yemen in a way that could contribute to reshaping the political tracks agenda of the Yemeni file in 2020 [3] given the following developments: 
1- What was announced by the Fourth UN Envoy, "Hans Grundberg" - on September 10, 2021 - in his first briefing before the Security Council as he said: “The UN’s approach to ending the conflict must be inclusive. to define the best way forward, I intend to assess past efforts, identify what has worked and what hasn’t, and listen to as many Yemeni men and women as possible. Peace in Yemen will not be sustained in the long term if Southern voices do not play a part in shaping it responsibly”. [4]
2- The field developments in South Yemen, especially with the change in the Arab Coalition’s strategy to support the “Southern Giants Brigades”, as part of the field moves to liberate the three districts in Beihan seized by the Houthis without any form of resistanceclashes during the Islah party’s control over Shabwa. The tasks of the “Giants Brigades” may not be limited to Shabwa but there could be a possible involvement in South Marib as currently happens in Harib and Al-Bayda. However, the STC looked more cautious towards such an advance into the Northern territories. [5]
3- The grass-root movement in Haramout in December 2021 against the government’s policies and to call for ending exporting the Southern wealth and natural resources until the local market reaches the state of self-sufficiency. 

4- The protests against the Islah-affiliated Shabwa Governor Mohammed Bin Adyo, and the subsequent appointment of Awad Mohammed Al-Awlaki" instead of him on December 25th, 2021. This decision was taken by the internationally-recognized President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi". This is considered a qualitative shift that paves the way for a “consensus” phase which has been welcomed by the STC, Al-Rabita Party, the United Alliance of the People of Shabwa and the Chairman of the General Council of the People of Mahra and etc...
Meanwhile, North Yemen was not far away from the field and political interactions in light of the Houthi encirclement operation, along with repositioning the Coalition forces with the ongoing movement in Shabwa, the steadfastness of the Marib city fronts, a parallel pressure against the group in North Shabwa districts and the continuing operation in the West Coast. All of those factors reveal features of a possible shift in the different paths of the Yemeni issue in 2022. 
Secondly- the Prospects of 2022: the future of military escalation
There are doubts about the possibility of reaching a consensus to achieve the settlement requirements of the Yemeni issue. This is related to the whole determinants that could form a more dynamic approach in the field developments map in 2022 regarding the following possible points:  
1- Field transformations: Resolving the Yemeni issue is in parallel with the ability to make field decisiveness. The internal disputing parties noticed this thing and began applying it in a more violent form with the end of 2021 and may continue in 2022. This pushes for one of two scenarios, the first of which is the Houthi success to control Marib. 
This could help the Houthis to expand the scope of their geographical control. The second is based upon repositioning the Arab Coalition, its ability to achieve the requirements of the “military resolve” and the ramifications of encircling the Houthis and pushing them to accept the settlement. This comes in conjunction with the current stage’s different types of strike and attacks against the Houthis to put more focus on “encircling” the group’s military capabilities through targeting armories and workshops used to manufacture weapons, as well as the platforms and bases used by the Houthis to launch drones and ballistic missiles which foreshadow successive cycles of possible military escalation during 2022. [6]

2- Rearranging the Houthi scene: Despite the fieldmilitary gains achieved by the Houthis, there is a number of challenges that face the group, the first of which is the reported internal conflicts among some Houthi wings and leaders regarding the way to manage the current field and political scene. The second thing is related to targeting influential Houthi leaders and members and the impact of this on confusing the Houthi movement map. [7]
3- Repositioning the Arab Coalition: the latest developments about the Coalition’s field moves reveals that there is a bet on operational repositioning after 6 years of no decisive tours in the war amid a number of a variable obstacle, mainly the political obstacles which are related to the international position towards the operational field/military moves based on the humanitarian paper and protecting civilians. The military obstacles are related to the Arab Coalition’s military strategy and their heavy reliance upon local military components to resolve this matter. 
On the other hand, some indicators make the Coalition’s repositioning possibilities more likely in a way that could make a shift in the operational mode. This is based upon two determinants: the first is the state of confusion within the Houthi structure due to penetrating its leadership structure by the Coalition forces. The second one is exploiting the opportunity to change the “international mode” towards the Houthis for their reluctance to respond to the international calls to stop the war, obstructing the humanitarian aid efforts and refusing the return to the negotiation table to reach a settlement based on the initiatives presented by the Coalition in 2021 which enjoyed international support. 
It worth mentioning that the criterion of testing those possibilities is depending on the effectiveness of managing the operational level on the ground. There are two scenarios related to such a point:
The first scenario: Related to how much the Coalition forces could hunt a cease-fire, thwarting the strategic battle of Marib, and push the Houthis to the negotiating table again. 

The second scenario: Related to the possible decline of the Coalition’s military changes if the Houthis succeeded in invading Marib and the ensuing expansion towards South Yemen. 

Thirdly-the prospects of political settlements in 2022:

All possibilities are still under test in 2022 despite the “cautious optimism” that accompanied the new US Administration’s change towards democracy and Biden’s announcement about the strategy to employ all diplomatic tools “the flexible approach” for pushing the path of political settlement of the Yemeni issue [8] including removing the Houthis from the terrorist organizations list, ending the military support for the Coalition and appointing the US Envoy “Lenderking”, as well as the possibilities of the latter’s moves to present a possible settlement operation in partnership with the UN efforts and regional mediations [9] and pushing them to turn to mediation efforts rather than the military involvement to calm things down and reach a political settlement. 
This in turn prompts to reconsider once again the probabilities of regional, international and international arrangements for a political settlement of the Yemeni issue, as follows:

1- The regional prospects:

This could impact the whole regional moves/interactions and their direct and indirect consequences in a way that reduces escalation, paves the way for pacification efforts and breaking political stalemate. 2022 will test those matters given the results of the ongoing understandings as illustrated below:

- What can be based on the results of the Iranian-Saudi rapprochement, if it succeeds, and its direct consequences towards the formulation of a field truce in preparation for discussing the paths of a political settlement between the parties involved in the Yemeni issue within the framework of UN sponsorship. This proposal is supported by the desire of both the KSA and the Coalition to end the Yemeni crisis and its various political, security, economic and humanitarian repercussions.
- What can be based on the successive experience of the Omani mediation roles [10]. As the geographical position of the Sultanate of Oman, which overlooks the strategic Strait of Hormuz, supervised by Iran, has made it a neutral diplomatic player in solving the problems experienced by the neighboring countries - especially Yemen - with which Muscat shares a geographical border extending over an estimated distance of about 300 km to the east. This made Muscat interfere in the political process, for fear of spreading violence to its lands. The Omani role may also find acceptance from the warring parties. 
2- The International prospects
This hypothesis is the basis for what international interactions could indirectly impact the path of the political settlement according to the following points [11]:

- United States: This is related to the role of the US Envoy “Lenderking” in the Yemeni issue and the relevant political and security agenda for the turbulent and tangled file. Moreover, this is connected with the outcome of the arrangements between Washington and Tehran regarding the renegotiation of the Iranian nuclear file, and what may be significantly reflected on the course of the crisis, whether through escalation or appeasement. This comes in conjunction with Tehran’s tendency to redraw the "stereotypical image” of its foreign policy, by employing the Houthis' card and pushing them to accept negotiations to convince the international community of its desire to change its regional policy, especially since these negotiations will preserve Tehran's influence in Yemen. It will keep the Houthis as a major party in future arrangements, but with policy tools away from "patterns of militarization." 
- EU: This has a connection with the EU’s open policies towards Yemen’s disputing parties. From one side, the EU stresses the legitimacy of the Yemeni President and sees the continuous presence of Houthi weapons as a threat against regional stability. On the other hand, the EU seems pointless as it does not adopt a clear approach in running the political operation of the Yemeni issue despite the full compatibility with all international movements. Consequently, the European bloc will likely be pushed towards that matter in light of the active movements of the fourth UN Envoy to Yemen, and his aspirations towards achieving the requirements of the "settlement". 
- China: Since Beijing agrees with the national/Arab vision in confronting the Houthis, as well as the fact that its foreign policy is based on the non-interference principle in the internal affairs of countries, it is likely that "Chinese economic moves", such as the new Silk Road project in the region, will be employed to push forward the Yemeni file towards fulfilling the requirements of a political settlement, to bridge the security threats to the "Silk Project."
- Russia: It adopts a cautious and full neutral position towards the Yemeni issue. For example, Russia abstained from voting on Resolution 2216. Moscow’s priority in the Yemeni file is largely intersected with Riyadh. This impacted the whole moves that aim to appease the KSA in this vital file for its regional security. On the other hand, the Russian policies in dealing with this file could change in case of remarkable American interference. This would come as part of reproducing bipolarity and the Middle Eastern influence map. This could be exploited by pushing for meeting the requirements of a political settlement. This is given that Moscow always seeks to twist the Yemeni card to justify its political and field positions in Syria, for example: while trying to present a draft resolution in the Security Council to impose an air embargo on Aleppo, Syria, Russia demanded a similar ban in Yemen. 

3- The UN prospects:
It is linked to the abilityeffectiveness of the International Community, with the appointment of Hans Grundberg as the fourth UN Envoy to Yemen, to reach points of contact and create common spaces between the agendas of the various parties involved in the Yemeni file, and push them to accept a temporary number of points. 

The first point is the participation of all parties and actors in dialogue and negotiation on political settlement mechanisms. The second is the commitment to the outcomes of what any future agreement may settle on, while the third one is determining a mechanism to impose sanctions on those who obstruct settlement efforts in case of reaching a consensus by the disputing parties to kick off the negotiating path.
Given the historical experience, we find that the Houthis always employ the negotiation tours to enhance their ability, rearrange their ranks as well as work to reduce their losses before returning quickly to the state of conflict. This has been clear in a number of scenes such as their coup against the 2014 Peace and Partnership Agreement and against the 2018 Stockholm Agreement and the latest refusal for the Saudi Initiative in March 2021. 
Accordingly, it is unlikely that 2022 could witness a comprehensive settlement of the Yemeni crisis. On the other hand, there is a possibility for breaking the political stalemate by reaching “partial settlements” which are based on creating common spaces and consensus determinants among all parties involved in the crisis. This may lead to initial gains which can be built upon in the future, top of which are: first: reaching consensus about a cease-fire between the two parties. The second is the engagement into a tour of binding negotiation to pave the way for drawing the prospects and the features of the political settlement of the Yemen issue. This could be later tested with the whole political and security interactions in 2022. 

International Relations & Regional Security Specialist
Photo: Southern Giants Brigade forces take a position in Beihan, Shabwa, South Yemen on January 10, 2021, after taking over the Southern governorate of Shabwa (AFP)

[1] Ahmed Aliba, The Yemeni Dilemma: The Struggle for the Crisis State, Strategic Notebooks, Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, No. 285, July 2018
[2] Demonstrations in South Yemen to denounce the deteriorating living conditions, BBC Arabic, 9/15-2021, bbc
[3] The year 2021 in Yemen: Unprecedented events and stations burdened with crises, South 24 Center for News and Studies, Annual Report, 12/28/2021
[4] Briefing of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, Mr. Hans Grundberg to the Security Council, Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, OSESGY, 9/14/2021
[5] A Historic Moment in Shabwa (
[6] and [7] Mahmoud Qassem, The Intractable Peace: What future awaits the Yemeni crisis during 2022?, The Egyptian Center for Thought and Strategic Studies, 12/30/2021
[8] Jeremy M. Sharp, Yemen: Civil War and Regional Intervention, Congressional Research Service, November 23, 2021, p.12: 14 
[9] Ahmed Nagi (FEBRUARY 12, 2021), What Does Biden's Yemen Policy Mean for Saudi Arabia, Carnegie Middle East Center,
[10] tacey Philbrick Yadav, Oman is a mediator in Yemen. Can it play the same role in Qatar? The Washington post, July 22, 2017
[11] Eman Zahran, Why do political settlement efforts fail in Yemen?, South24 Center for News and Studies, 8/8/2021

South YemenHouthisYemeni filePolitical settlementUS EnvoyUnited NationsMaribSaudi ArabiaUAECoalition