Saudi forces (Archive)

How Will The Saudi Understandings With The Houthis End?


Fri, 27-01-2023 06:40 PM, Aden

Farida Ahmed (South24) 

More than three months have passed since the Houthis refused to renew the UN-brokered truce which expired on October 2nd 2022. However, the current mediation to prolong the truce has taken a more independent approach away from the UN path. This is because Oman is the one which leads the mediation efforts this time and has contributed in opening unofficial channels between the Saudis and the Houthis to facilitate negotiations and understandings with an aim to renew the truce for another 6 months. During the last few months, there has been a de-facto truce. However, although Muscat serves as a facilitator among the aforementioned parties, Hans Grundberg" will likely be the one who announces renewing the truce if all parties agree. In his latest briefing, the man was apparently optimistic and remarkably hailed the Omani and Saudi efforts. 

Undoubtedly, the truce won’t be renewed for another 6 months without new Houthi terms imposed on the other party. According to the leaks, during a visit to Sanaa by a Saudi delegation, led by the Saudi Ambassador, the Houthis already received guarantees to implement them. This includes the humanitarian file, the salaries of the employees in the Houthi-controlled areas according to Al-Akhbar newspaper which is close to Lebanese Hezbollah. The newspaper claimed that it was agreed upon paying the salaries in hard currency based upon the 2014 payrolls. A private plane will transport the salaries to the Yemeni capital on a monthly basis. Moreover, the destinations of Sanaa International Airport will be expanded to include Egypt, Qatar, Jordan, India and Malaysia according to the newspaper. Furthermore, all restrictions against the entry of imports to the Port of Hodeidah will be lifted. Officially, KSA has not denied these leaks. However, a Saudi diplomat told a US news agency that paying military salaries is conditional on the Houthi acceptance of security guarantees including the establishment of a buffer zone with the Houthi-controlled areas along the Yemen-Saudi border.

Previously, some parties in the internationally-recognized government dealt positively with the international efforts and initiatives. They excessively cooperated with the approaches of the UN Envoy to Yemen in building trust and peace without imposing similar strict conditions, especially related to paying the salaries of the public sector employees. On the other hand, STC has kept refusing the Houthi terms based on the nature of the already worsening conditions of the public sector employees in South Yemen. Aidrous Al-Zubaidi, STC President and PLC member, stipulated that the revenues of the Central Bank in Sanaa, Hodeidah and Marib should be transferred to Aden first before allowing paying salaries from Aden to Sanaa. Moreover, Anis Al-Sharafi, the member of Southern negotiation delegation said that “the legitimate government’s acceptance of the Houthi demands to pay the salaries of the state employees in the areas under their control from oil and tax revenues in the liberated areas deposited in the Central Bank in Aden will push Southerners to take special measures which guarantee their rights”. It can be understood that this is a gesture of a possible unilateral move taken by Southerners in case of implementing the Houthi conditions.

As for the Southerners, things are not limited to just extending a truce in case of paying the salaries of public sector employees in the Houthi-controlled areas. This would serve as an appetizer for the Houthis to ask for more, including demands for large shares of oil revenues in South Yemen’s areas. In October and November 2022, the Houthi militia bombed the ports of Dabba and Al-Nashima in Hadramout and Shabwa governorates. It was apparently that the aim of these attacks was to push for making economic gains in the UN-led talks to renew the truce. The Houthi militia will likely launch new attacks against the oil ports if they fail to carry out their current conditions. They may pose pressure through other ways to obtain additional gains, especially amid the absence of the voice of the internationally recognized government. What has helped the Houthis to go too far in these attacks is the lack of a strict response from PLC and the Saudi-led Coalition. 

After the understandings, what is next?

It seems that any agreement to renew the truce will achieve progress for the first time regarding releasing the Saudi prisoners held by the Houthis. It is expected that the Houthis will delay carrying out other humanitarian obligations related to the Yemenis’ interests including lifting the blockade on crossings. The agreement will be like giving a ransom to the Houthis, whether by Saudi Arabia or by giving them a share of Marib oil in return for releasing the Saudi prisoners. This is in the wake of the visit by the Saudi military delegation to Sanaa in October to check their identities. This was confirmed by Abdulqadir Al-Murtada, the Head of the National Committee for Prisoners’ Affairs, which is affiliated to the Houthis. He tweeted that “the visit aimed at checking their names and identifying them on the ground and was not related to any other discussions or political dialogue”. 

Accordingly, after implementing this aspect by giving the Houthis oil or financial revenues in return for releasing prisoners, it is likely that the expected prolonged truce will end without reaching a framework for comprehensive peace negotiations or even agreeing on renewing it again. The Houthis will resort to demanding new conditions through which they can make additional political and financial gains. This either would lead to the return of the military confrontations on the ground or to comprehensive peace based upon the Houthi conditions. This depends on the strength or weakness of unity in the ranks of the “legitimate government”. This also linked to the KSA priorities in this regard related to its regional calculations in light of the tense relationship between the European Union and Iran and the possible Israeli military strike against Tehran after the return of the far right wing, led by Netanyahu, to power. 

Economically, it turns out that the Houthis have long been preparing to seize the opportunity to impose their preconditions for access to oil revenues. Their negotiations over the past years regarding the floating oil storage vessel "Safer" off the port of Ras Isa in Hodeidah governorate revealed their rejection of any options related to dealing with the crisis of the dilapidated tanker which contains 1.1 million barrels of oil. The latest solutions in this regard included replacing it with another ship through an UN-sponsored project which costs 144 million$. This would be significantly different from the value of the stored oil. Through this solution, The Houthis will guarantee keeping using oil as a military deterrent and a time bomb if the conformations return again in Hodeidah. This will also serve their negotiation terms regarding oil revenues, especially that finding an alternative vessel will keep the floating oil exporting port at Ras Isa running. The latter is the source through which Marib oil is exported from the upstream "Saffer Fields" to the downstream "Safer tanker" in Ras Isa in Hodeidah. It turns out that the conditions have long been in the Houthi agenda. They put them on the table with the imminent replacement of the old debilitated vessel with a new one. This would enable them not just obtaining crude oil but also selling it in the global market as well recognizing doing business with them. 

Possible trends

If a truce is reached and later collapses or not extended, the Houthis will likely launch a strong attack against Marib as a main source of the crude oil. They will likely target the oil facilities there if the attack fails. What enhances the possibility of attacking Marib is the lack of order and the weakness of the Third Military District as well as the failure to make the receiving and delivery role in the Al-Jawf Military Axis. This is due to the Islah’s rejection of the new appointments there. It seems that the Islah Party deals with them as a barter card with Saudi Arabia in light of the pressure against the party by Southerners and their allies regarding driving the military forces affiliated with it out of the Wadi and Desert Hadramout.

If the regional forces and the international communities impose a comprehensive peace agreement on the “legitimacy” components to accept it according to the current arrangements, especially that some regional and international parties offer the Houthis unacceptable concessions which don’t suit other Yemeni actors, the Southerners will likely adopt a stance to keep control on the areas outside such an agreement. However, keeping important areas such as the valley and desert of Hadramout as well as Al-Mahra outside the control of the Southern forces weakens the Southern position although it is expected that they will stick to refusal. 

Farida Ahmed 

Executive Director of South24 Center for News and Studies

Saudi ArabiaHouthisOmanHouthi-Saudi TalksYemenYemen WarSouth YemenSTCPLC