Hope for Yemen Peace After Saudi-Iranian Rapprochement By Abdul Rahman

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Saudi-led air strike on Sana’a, Yemen, 2015. (Ibrahem Qasim, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Abdul Rahman reports on prospects for war ending in Yemen in the wake of the Chinese-mediated deal to restore diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Thousands took to the streets across major Yemeni cities including Sanaa, Sa’ada, and Taiz on Sunday to mark the eighth anniversary of the beginning of the Saudi-led aggression in the country. Protesters reiterated their demand for an end to the war and lifting the blockade on the country. The leaders of the Houthi movement have called these essential conditions for peace. 

The National Day of Resilience and Steadfastness, as March 26 is celebrated by the Yemenis, symbolizes their resolve amid the large-scale destruction caused by the Saudi-led coalition’s airstrikes and blockade. 

Meanwhile, after all the suffering and ill effects of the war, hopes for peace in Yemen have been renewed following the recent Chinese-brokered rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which has named Iranian influence in the region and alleged support for the Houthis as one of the main reasons for the war.

Agence France Press quoted Ahmed Nagi of the International Crisis Group as saying that Saudi Arabia “is seeking to shift its approach in Yemen from a military strategy to a soft security and political one.”  Nagi said “military operations, such as airstrikes” are now likely to cease, and that the priority is a “diplomatic solution.” Nagi, however, told CNN, “We may see a change in the regional element of the conflict, but things may prove more difficult on the local level, since the conflict is essentially a domestic (one) and not a regional one.”

[Related: Seismic Iran-Saudi Rapprochement Isolates US]

Saudi War & Blockade 

On March 26, 2015, an international coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched its war on the Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and imposed a punishing land, sea, and air blockade on the country, depriving it of essential commodities including food and medicine.

The Saudi-led coalition alleged that the Houthis were a proxy of Iran and wanted the reinstatement of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, who had fled capital Sana’a for the southern city of Aden after the Houthis took control of Sana’a in September 2014. Hadi later left the country to live in Riyadh. 

July 30, 2013: U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, left, with Yemen’s President Abd Rabuh Mansur Hadi, pass through an honor cordon on the way to the Pentagon for a discussion of shared national security items. (DoD/Glenn Fawcett, Wikimedia Commons)

The Saudi-led forces were supplied armaments and technical support by the U.S., U.K. and France.

[Related, on the origin of the war: Sacrificing Yemen to Appease Saudis]

The war has had a devastating impact on Yemen’s 33 million people, killing hundreds of thousands and forcing millions into displacement. Yemen, already the poorest country in the Arab world before the war, has, according to the U.N., become the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis” of the century. 

While the U.N. had claimed that by the end of 2021 a total of 377,000 Yemenis had been killed due to the war, the Houthi-backed administration in Sana’a claims that the real figure is over 1.5 million. This figure includes deaths caused by both direct and indirect acts of war. It also claims that the war and blockade are the primary reasons for the rise in poverty (currently at 95 percent) and unemployment (65 percent) in the country. 

UNICEF has reported at least one child dies in Yemen every 10 minutes from causes that are easily preventable. According to UNICEF, at least 2.2 million Yemeni children suffer from acute malnutrition. The U.N. has estimated more than 11,000 Yemeni children have been either killed or severely injured in the eight years of war, also noting that actual figures could be far higher.

According to the UN, “a staggering 21.6 million people require some form of humanitarian assistance in 2023, as 80% of the country’s population struggles to access food, safe drinking water and adequate health services.” 

With fuel scarce in Sanaa after the outbreak of war, the water authority could not operate the network and water was provided by relief aid. Without clean water, UNICEF said waterborne diseases are a certainty and put children at risk. (Julien Harneis, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Six-Month Ceasefire & Aftermath   

Despite occasional reports of violence from time to time, there has been relative calm in Yemen since April last year when a U.N.-mediated ceasefire was imposed. The formal truce lasted only for six months, but both parties have desisted from any large-scale escalation since then.

The Houthis have repeatedly raised the continued Saudi blockade as the main reason for avoiding talks to extend the ceasefire. The Saudis have refused to respond to this, and had only partially lifted the blockade during the six months of the ceasefire.  

The Saudi coalition has also had to grapple with infighting. Last year, the coalition replaced Hadi and instead installed a seven-member Presidential Council as an alternative government in Yemen. 

The favorable conditions created by the Saudis’ dismissal of Hadi and the prolonged ceasefire gave Oman an opportunity to mediate talks between the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition. The Oman-mediated process also received a boost when Saudi Arabia and Iran signed a China-mediated deal to restore diplomatic relations after a gap of seven years.   

However, Yemenis are still skeptical. The U.S., which had actively supported Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen until at least 2020, still sees the Houthis as dangerous to its attempts to maintain hegemony in the region. 

Abdul Malik al-Houthi, leader of Ansar Allah or the Houthi movement, has made it clear that the withdrawal of foreign troops from Yemen is essential for peace. Without elaborating on the reasons, he recently expressed his apprehensions about the success of the Oman-led mediation, saying that the U.S. was attempting to postpone “the withdrawal of foreign forces from Yemen for an indefinite period.”    

Abdul Rahman is a correspondent for Peoples Dispatch.

This article is from Peoples Dispatch.

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