The Houthi delegation meets the UN envoy to Yemen, February 2022 (official)

Muscat Negotiations: An Opportunity for Peace or a Maneuver


Thu, 19-05-2022 02:21 PM, Aden

Waddah Al-Oubali (South24) 

More than 7 years have passed since the outbreak of the Yemeni civil war. For various reasons, this war has been prolonged which has negatively impacted different conditions in a country that has poor infrastructure and limited resources. This makes rejecting war and attaining peace a basic and inevitable option after such a long period of the extended conflict since 2014. This has been accompanied by suffering due to violence, lack of security, not paying salaries, looting resources, and destroying economic, services, and educational infrastructure. Furthermore, this has deprived the country of projects and achievements which could have been done during that period rather than war and destruction. After it turned out to be an endless war from the international community's perspective, the option of stopping it and the involvement of the competing parties in peace negotiations became an urgent one which attracted a unified international harmonious stance.
Reviewing peace possibilities

We believe that any future peace requires steps with a strategic dimension formulated as part of a modern and historic agreement, which guarantees the region's security for at least the next 100 years. This does not seem to be possible with such an intransigent group as the Houthis who have typically dodged around peace maneuvers and made them stations to achieve more gains. This emanated from their desire to have full control of Yemen's geography. We rely here on an objective and fair reading of the Houthi record of violating the agreements and non-compliance with their previous commitments they vowed in more than a negotiation tour. This makes the lack of trust by anti-Houthi parties legitimate fears. 
The power option for imposing peace

Some believe that the “power for imposing peace” equation is the most viable to push peace efforts toward the actual square in this stage. This equation may be prepared for by the Arab Coalition along with the local forces supporting it as being a basic and a realistic requirement at this stage.
Some don’t see this belief as a radical one or as a call to continue violence and war. They rather believe that it is a result of absolute certainty about the impossibility of peace in Yemen under the current circumstances. This is related to the local forces' balances in which the Houthis keep heavy and qualitative weapons that go beyond the scope of threatening the local parties to reach the neighboring countries and the region in general.
The motives behind the Houthi intransigence

Whatever the size of depletion the Houthis have sustained during approximately 8 years; this does not mean that they reached a level that makes other parties feel secure. The Houthis relied in their war on the strategic stock of various qualitative weapons which are supposed to be exclusively owned by the state and the army. They have a very big and diversified stock which is equivalent in size and quality to other Arab armies in the region with simple and varying differences. This means that the power balance possibilities are still in favor of the Houthis.

Things don’t stop at this level. Along with the weapons seized by the Houthis after their coup on September 21st, 2014, they were accused of smuggling weapons and receiving arms smuggled from Iran and its sectarian arms in the region such as Lebanese Hezbollah whose existence in Yemen was proved by more than one video [1]. Furthermore, the Houthis didn’t forget to plan with their allies to benefit from developing and modifying the missiles which were part of the Yemeni army's arsenal. This includes the immense stock of the air defense missiles delivered by the Houthis to an Iranian military-technical team. The latter is responsible for transforming them and making amendments from their original version (surface to air missiles) to surface to surface missiles as well as increasing their range. The Houthis have relied on this to increase their missile stock. Such a matter confirms that their impact will be more permanent and persistent than before as long as they still own these weapons and refuse to hand them over. 

Muscat Consultations: a warrior's rest and exploring stances

The Houthis' bet is that prolonging the no-war and no- peace status is the most suitable path for them in this stage in which they need to gather their ranks and restore their exhausted power after seven years of war. The last year was characterized by ongoing escalation despite the lack of effectiveness on the Marib fronts. It is the same period that has witnessed a decline in the will and the morale of the Houthi fighters. Their self-confidence and faith were shaken although they previously were doubtless. The Houthis always adopt a belief that no other forces could stop them from achieving what they want. However, they found themselves in a narrow escape in the face of the resistance in Marib and some tribesmen. This was accompanied by the Arab Coalition's concentrated airstrikes which lasted for 11 months. The Southern Giants Forces concluded this by liberating the districts of Usaylan, Beihan, Ein, and Harib. This exposed the back of the Houthi forces in In Al-Balaq and the Umm Rish Desert, north of Al-Juba in the southern front which was the most dangerous for Marib. Thus, the Houthis were forced to deal with these pivotal changes in the battle trajectory which curbed their advances.
More deeply, these factors and other external factors related to the imminent signing of the Iranian nuclear deal pushed the Houthis to grudgingly accept the participation in the ongoing Muscat Consultations. However, they see it as an opportunity that enables them to explore and read the Saudi stances as well as the positions of active and effective parties in the Yemeni file. The Houthis won't find any embarrassment in posing pressure, sticking to stubbornness, and making up obstacles in a way that allows them to secure the biggest gains from this tour. This resembles what happened in the several negotiation tours held in Geneva, Kuwait, Belle, and Stockholm during the previous years of war. The latest of those negotiations, held in Stockholm in late December 2018 in which the Houthis made gains they still maintain despite dodging their obligations included in this agreement according to the Yemeni government. This includes their withdrawal from the three Hodeida ports, and the withdrawal of their forces outside the city of Hodeida which have not been implemented yet. This represented a new phase of the Houthi violation of their obligations and pledges as well as their breach of agreements. For the Houthis, this is a common behavior they used to adopt since their first war against the state in 2004 and continued in “Stockholm” and probably “Muscat”. 
Peace approaches and the Houthi stance

Undoubtedly, attaining peace requires necessary concessions from all competing parties. In light of available data, the Houthis are apparently not willing to provide the necessary concessions. They likely won’t accept the peace that takes from them what they deem as their “exclusive gains". They stress that all their gains are the outcome of thousands of their fighters’ blood. The Houthis believe that any concessions betray the blood of those who sacrificed for their sake. Naturally, such a stance is enough in itself to block the way in front of any future settlements. This makes it difficult to reach a joint formula or possible understanding with the Houthis as a radical group that believes in its peculiarities and constants. They deal with the people components with a kind of discrimination and stratification. Thus, there are still a lot of deposits that could act as a basis to continue and resume the conflict. 
Peace hypothesis from the ideological groups’ perspectives

If we assume that the Houthis could accept nominal and temporary peace, they really won’t give up some of what they deem as touchless constants. For example, Sanaa streets, universities, government offices, facilities, schools, and public gardens are flooded with photos and slogans of the Houthis founder and leader Abdulmalik Al-Houthi and new names of the group's iconic figures [2]. Such a view can be enhanced with several questions: Will the Houthis accept removing these photos and slogans as a goodwill gesture to normalize conditions in any incoming political settlement? How will they deal with any calls to remove these photos and sectarian slogans from Sanaa's streets? Will they accept to eliminate the new names of schools, galleries, and streets which were renamed after some of their casualties or some Shiite and Iranian iconic figures?
It is important to say that the Houthis could respond to this with inflexibility. They will deal with any calls in that regard as being pushed by external parties. The Houthis may resort to suppressing them and they won't find any deterrent to explode the situation and threaten to return to war once the other parties speak about these details. Such details are apparently simple on the surface when compared to higher-level details that oblige the Houthis to believe and accept the right of other parties to participate.

The Houthis' view on the Muscat negotiations
Leaks coming from Muscat reveal that the Houthis adopt an uncompromising approach in rejecting handing over any areas controlled by them. They also refuse the participation of other Yemeni parties in ruling and managing these areas. Moreover, the Houthis demand giving them autonomy-based management and rule of these governorates while keeping their weapons. If this is the case, it will be the beginning of consolidating their control and rule over these areas and block them completely for other parties. Therefore, this would help the Houthis gradually to isolate the areas under their control from their national, historical and cultural extension as they will seek to change their identity and transform its large population into fuels for their next military tours. It was clear through accusations against the Houthis of coordinating with AQAP elements recently to destabilize the Southern governorates following the establishment of the Presidential Council, especially after the latter's arrival at the interim capital city of Aden according to Saudi newspaper Okaz [3].
The gap of paradoxes and contradictions between the two parties' visions

Reading the stances and the statements of the Houthis during the past period will cause much disappointment. Everything issued by them contradicts the local, regional and international approaches. This also reveals a big and wide gap between the Houthis' peace terms and standards and those that guarantee the future security of Yemen and the whole region. A thorough reading of the Houthi positions will rule out a possible approach for a solution that could satisfy other parties. There is almost no common ground upon which peace can be built between the same parties and the Houthis. The latter's peace project was formulated in a way that suits their aspirations and achieves their goals alone. Additionally, this project does not intersect at any point with the other categories of Yemeni people. Accordingly, this could lead to confirming that the Houthi participation in the Muscat Consultations is no more than exploration and maneuvering and knowing the regional and the international impression. 

Military expert and analyst, non-resident fellow at South24 Center for News and Studies
(Views reflect the author's opinion)

Civil warMuscat NegotiationsPeace resolutionArab CoalitionSTCHouthis