Photo: Independent Arabia

In Yemen’s Crisis: Is Saudi Arabia a Mediator or a Party?


Sat, 15-04-2023 10:28 AM, Aden Time

Aden (South24 Center)

The privileges which would be gained by Saudi Arabia and Iran as regional influential parties justify their desire to play the mediation role. This will allow them to stay close to the interactions and consequences of the crisis while being less involved and probably less responsible.

Despite the military operation it has led since 2015, Saudi Arabia has been keen to avoid being described as a "party" in the Yemen crisis. Riyadh attributed its military intervention as being a response to a call from the internationally- recognized Yemeni government in the face of the coup crisis carried out by the Houthis and their partner Saleh more than 8 years ago. 

Riyadh attempted to play a "parental" role in the Yemen crisis through the war against the Houthis who seek to control the entire country. On the contrary, the Iran-backed Houthis  see   KSA as a direct and main actor in the crisis under what they describe as being an" invasion" which has been often accompanied by the term "the Saudi American". 

In 2022, the Riyadh Consultations in April were the most prominent indicator of KSA's urgent desire to enhance the mediation role and to avoid being seen as a party. This was attained by hosting the anti-Houthi Yemeni actors after open invitations by the GCC to the Yemeni parties to participate in the consultations which were boycotted by the Houthis. 

Before that, Saudi Arabia had announced a political initiative to solve the Yemeni crisis in March 2021. It included a comprehensive ceasefire under the UN watch as well as   depositing tax and customs revenues from the Houthi-controlled Port of Al-Hodeidah in the Central Bank in Al-Hodeidah according to the Stockholm Agreement. This also included opening Sanaa International Airport and kicking off consultations among the Yemeni parties to reach a political solution. 

Despite the direct disclosed Saudi-Houthi talks which began months ago with an Omani mediation away from the Presidential Leadership Council, Riyadh again asserted its desire to play the mediation role by the kingdom’s Ambassador Mohammed Al Jaber from Sanaa on April 8th. 

He wrote on Twitter: “I visit Sanaa accompanied by a delegation from the Sultanate of Oman to install the truce and ceasefire, support prisoner exchange operation and discuss the ways of the dialogue among the Yemeni components to reach a comprehensive and sustainable political solution in Yemen". 

The Houthis received Al-Jaber’s messages from Sanaa where they have run North Yemen over the past years.  Houthi officials expressed their rejection of portraying Saudi Arabia as a mediator. Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi mocked this description. He wondered how Saudi Arabia needed the Omani mediation to enable it to play the role of a mediator. 

Houthi leader Mohammed Al-Bukhaiti said: “No need to seek unreal explanations to justify the negotiations between Sanaa and Riyadh. Things must be called by their real names. Saudi Arabia is not a mediator but a party in the conflict". 

He also tweeted: “If the current Omani-brokered negotiations in Sanaa fail, this would mean the return of the war among both parties of the conflict [..] as the Saudi air forces will bomb Yemen again while the Yemeni air and missile forces will hit  Saudi Arabia again. Thus, Is it reasonable to call KSA a mediator?” 

It began from Beijing 

The Chinese-sponsored reconciliation agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran on March 10th constituted a clear turning point in the Saudi foreign policy towards “zeroing” the regional problems of the ascending and ambitious kingdom. Many of these problems are related to Iran as well as the militias and groups backed by Tehran. 

Some observers draw a link between the shifts in Saudi foreign policies and Riyadh’s desire to exit the Yemeni crisis from the mediation gate. The latter will be keen on arranging the “back garden” of the kingdom in a way that suits Riyadh before closing the Saudi door. Yemeni academic Mohamed Al-Jumeh believes that Saudi Arabia managed to move to the mediator square. 

He wrote on Twitter: “Although the Houthi media machine speaks about a victory achieved by the group, the Houthi leaders realize that Saudi Arabia is the winner after moving shrewdly from the square of the enemy to the square of the mediator and peacemaker". He added: "What can the Houthis say to hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded, and the millions of displaced people who were sacrificed to confront the “Saudi enemy”. 

Indeed, there was much anger among the Houthi affiliates and supporters in North Yemen in the wake of the latest visit of the Saudi Ambassador. Anti-Houthi activists accused Houthi leaders such as Al-Bukhaiti and Mohammed Al-Houthi of adopting tweets to calm down their supporters and "blackmailing" them to stop short of expressing their stance. 

However, it seems that Saudi Arabia is not the only one who wants to play the mediation role as Iran wants this also. In a conference yesterday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said: "Iran will accept the role of a mediator in the Yemeni peace talks if proposed". 

The privileges which would be gained by Saudi Arabia and Iran as regional influential parties justify the desire of Riyadh and Tehran to play the mediation role. This will allow them to stay close to the interactions and consequences of the crisis while being less involved and probably less responsible. 

Moreover, the reconstruction cost of what was destroyed by the Yemeni war may be a basic reason also. This is because the regional active parties in the Yemen crisis are keen to avoid being a direct party in a way that equalizes or may surpass the local parties regarding the emergence and development of the crisis. 

In statements to "CNN", an Emirati official supported the Saudi mediation role in Yemen. He said: "Since the beginning of the Yemeni crisis, the UAE has always supported Saudi Arabia. We completely back the current Saudi efforts to find a political solution to the crisis to establish peace among all different Yemeni parties". 

Imminent place? 

The Middle East Institute said: "Saudi-Houthi deal won’t bring lasting peace in Yemen". It added in a new report by researcher Nadwa Al-Dawsari: "Eight years of military intervention by the SLC saw the war in Yemen evolve from a civil war into a battleground for proxy war among regional actors". 

It added: "Through the recent China-brokered Iran deal and by making concessions to the Houthis, Saudi Arabia seeks a quick and easy way out of the Yemen war, which has become an “unnecessary distraction” from its domestic development objectives under Vision 2030". 

It continued by saying: "A peace scenario does not seem to be on the horizon. The Houthis are likely to resume their military campaign to seize control of Yemen sooner or later. A scenario in which the Saudis ally with the Houthis to undermine UAE influence in the south is not outside of the realm of possibility". 

As for the current talks between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia in Sanaa, member of the Houthi political bureau Ali Al-Qhoom told "South24 Center": "We feel optimistic towards the progress and success in efforts made by Oman. There are mobility and ongoing high-pace negotiations with the Omani mediation that aims to establish peace". 

He added: "These are commendable efforts, especially their visit along with the Saudi delegation to Sanaa and conducting discussions with the leadership there. The priority is for the humanitarian files, halting invasion, lifting the siege, releasing prisoners, reconstruction, reparations and enabling the Yemenis to solve their problems without foreign guardianship". 

In a statement issued on Tuesday, STC's Presidium warned of "touching South Yemen's wealth or its economic and sovereign resources". The statement said: "We refuse any measures that aim to harm South Yemen and its sovereign economic resources while the army and security personnel in South Yemen are not paid their salaries". 

The Houthis called for paying the salaries of fighters and civilians in North Yemen from oil revenues in South Yemen. In October and November last year, the Houthis launched 4 drone attacks against oil ports in the two Southern governorates Hadramout and Shabwa. 

Regardless of the controversy about the cover through which Saudi Arabia wants to revert its officials' visit to Sanaa, everyone agrees that the kingdom began to take serious steps to end its involvement with the longest and most complicated war in its history.

South24 Center

HouthisSaudi ArabiaYemen WarSaudi Visit to Sanaa