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The Floating State in Yemen: When Will it End?


Thu, 28-07-2022 03:10 PM, Aden

Farida Ahmed (South24)

On April 2nd this year, UN Envoy Hans Grundberg announced a truce among all Yemeni parties in order to meet Yemen’s urgent humanitarian and economic needs. [1] Four months have passed since the beginning of the truce which was renewed for the second time until August 2nd. The truce has witnessed hundreds of violations according to claims by the disputing parties. However, there is no doubt that the truce contributed to reducing violence at the local and the regional levels. From a general perspective, the Saudis and the Houthis basically benefited from the truce while the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC), which represents the legitimate authority, has not yet achieved any practical benefits from it.

The interim freezing approach in Yemen became largely remarkable and stirs many questions about its reasons and whether external factors have a large impact on it such as the Russian-Ukrainian war. The latest visit by the US President Joe Biden to Riyadh was basically related to a hope that OPEC+ takes a number of procedures to enhance energy production including the KSA whose importance as the biggest oil exporter increases. This comes amid turmoil that hit the global oil markets as well as discussions about the Iranian nuclear file and activating Israeli-Palestinian peace process. 

Practically, these deals seem suitable for the Biden administration which will enter the Fall midterm elections during the coming months and will seek to win a second presidential term in the 2024 Elections. US Vice President Kamala Harris announced that President Biden will be a candidate in the elections. She added: ”If he does this, I will be his candidate partner and we will work together” [2]. The context of restoring the US relationships in the Middle East, especially its traditional relationships with the KSA may come as part of two trajectories. The first one aims at alleviating the economic hardships experienced by the US including inflation and the soaring costs of living amid the internal criticisms against the Biden administration from its allies and rivals. The second one is external and is related to the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. The New York Times said that:”the war led to the biggest operation to reconsider US foreign policy since the September 11 attacks in 2001. This led to new American feelings towards the task and changed the strategic calculations with partners and rivals alike”. [3]

Moreover, the Biden Administration has stressed since ascending to power on the issue of the Middle East stability including reopening negotiations about Iran’s nuclear program. However it was more strict and lukewarm in its relationships with the KSA. For example, during his election campaign, Biden pledged to “make the KSA pay the price” after murdering Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside his country’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018 [4]. He also refused to deal with the KSA’s Crown Prince directly. Furthermore, Biden removed the Houthis from the list of terrorist organizations in his first decision hours after entering the White House. [5] Apparently, It was a reply to the last decision taken by his predecessor Donald Trump who officially added the insurgent group to the terrorist groups hours before leaving office. 

Nevertheless, Washington currently apparently can condone some human rights files related to Riyadh in order to achieve some urgent interests. Furthermore, the stability of the region is very important, including the KSA, the UAE and other Gulf states. This is relevant with the truce in Yemen which is sought to be renewed for further 6 months by pressuring the warring parties in the country. Five counties including (The US, UK, the KSA, the UAE and Oman) stressed in a new joint statement their support to the truce and the UN Envoy’s multitrack approaches. [6] Despite the Houthi rejection of understandings about extending the truce which was described by the group as being “a shocking and disappointing experience which can’t be repeated” [7], the Yemeni parties are expected to surrender to international and regional pressures ultimately. Realistically, the Houthis won’t risk rejecting the truce for some reasons including their fear that the international community could turn against them. Their de facto rule could reach an end if Washington and European countries decide to support the Arab Coalition to resolve the battle militarily in favor of the legitimate authority in Yemen.

This depends on the extent of the truce’s success for the third time, and whether its effect will extend until the end of this year, or at least after the end of the US midterm elections. Prolonging the truce is likely to lead to 3 scenarios, the first one is to extend it till the end of the year before kicking off peace negotiation along with preparing a ready-made draft solution signed by Yemeni parties like “The Kerry Plan" in 2016. The second one is renewing the truce till the end of the year while leaving discussions open between parties. The third scenario is to resolve the battle against the Houthis militarily. This scenario seems unlikely in light of the international developments and the KSA’S wider dialogue with Iran and its interim negotiations with the Houthis in order to secure borders and settle the conflict in Yemen. [8]

In this regard, it is important for the US not to make surprises currently, especially it stressed that “it won’t allow foreign or regional forces to threaten the freedom of navigation through the water lanes in the Middle East including Straits of Hormuz and Bab Al-Mandab. [9] As for Yemen, the Iran-backed Houthis constitute a direct threat on the maritime navigation security, especially when targeting the Saudi oil tankers in the Red Sea as happened in 2018 and the subsequent other attacks which were contained. In late March, Riyadh announced it would not bear responsibility for any global oil supply shortages after attacks on its oil facilities by the Houthis who receive from Iran ballistic missile and advanced drones technologies that target oil and gas production sites and their derivatives. [10]

Accordingly, the floating no war-no peace state in Yemen is apparently proper at the international level in light of the developments of the Russian-Ukrainian war. This is particularly suitable for the European Union and the US foreign policy amid the internal pressures against the Biden administration from its Democratic allies and Republican rivals due to the decline of the economic conditions in his era. The foggy status in Yemen is expected to last long with the approval of the international and regional parties. Washington will pose pressure through its envoy in Yemen along with the UN envoy in Yemen to renew the truce for a longer time and to avoid making sudden confusions that could threaten global energy security, especially that Riyadh announced the increase of its production capacities to 13 million barrels a day. This situation will apparently be comfortable for the Saudi-led Coalition because the KSA has not been attacked or received direct threats due to the truce.

Although freezing the general situation in Yemen has not positively improved the economic and humanitarian conditions, Hans Grundberg seemed optimistic regarding the truce which serves as a platform to build trust among parties and begin serious discussions about the economic priorities such as revenues and salaries as well as the security priorities such as ceasefire. In contrast, the Chairman of the PLC refuses to discuss other files until the Houthis carry out their obligations regarding opening Taiz crossings. [11] It is worth mentioning that the Taiz issue occupied a large space of the discussions in return of reducing other important files supposed to be among the PLC priorities. This includes urgent economic, security and security treatments. The latter has to benefit from the truce which is likely to extend. This begins with saving the deteriorating living and economic conditions in areas under its control and the attempt to balance the treatment of other files according to their priorities. 

Farida Ahmed

Executive Director of South24

1- The Yemeni Truce took effect and the UN Envoy stresses on the importance of building on this agreement. (un.org)
2-Will Joe Biden face a 2024 primary challenge? - CNNPolitics
3- Ukraine War Ushers In ‘New Era’ for Biden and U.S. Abroad - The New York Times (nytimes.com)
5- Biden administration to remove Houthis from terrorist list, reversing another Trump policy (nbcnews.com)
6- Between Renewal and War: What is the Fate of the Truce in Yemen? (south24.net)
7- A tweet issued by the Houthi news agency “Saba net” (twitter.com)
8- - SWI swissinfo.ch
9-Remarks by President Biden at the GCC + 3 Summit Meeting | The White House
10-Saudi Arabia said on Monday it would not bear responsibility for any global oil supply shortages after attacks on its oil facilities by the the terrorist Houthi militias (spa.gov.sa)
11- The PLC refuses to discuss any files before opening “Taiz roads” (sahafahn.net)

Yemen conflictUN EnvoyBiden administrationEnergy productionMiddle East stabilityHouthis