A Window of Opportunity for Yemen

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region

November 14, 2018

The war in Yemen grinds on, exacting an ever-higher price in civilian lives. Now the country is facing a massive famine, with hundreds of thousands of civilians  at risk of starvation. Much of the regional conversation about the conflict has recently focused on statements coming out of the White House, which have indicated a pro-diplomacy shift in U.S. policy on the war. However, there is a sense of exhausted déjà vu, as the promise of a negotiated peace has been dashed before. Still, some have expressed hope that, with time running out to avert a humanitarian disaster, the world will be forced to bring the conflict to an end.

One of those calling for an immediate end to the violence is The Peninsula’s Khalid Al-Jaber, who, in a recent op-ed argues that an end to the war “serves U.S. national interests. Helping to create a unified Yemeni state with a centralized and representative government is necessary for winning the struggle against AQAP and other violent extremists in Yemen. A failed state in Yemen run by militias threatens to turn the Arabian country into another Somalia…. Washington must accept that there is no viable military solution to the war in Yemen. Possessing the leverage to positively affect conditions on the ground in Yemen, the United States would be wise to take steps to slow down, if not altogether reverse, … one of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”

The Gulf News editorial also makes the case for a “political solution,” but shifts the responsibility to the Houthi rebels, who, according to the editorial, continue to ignore diplomatic overtures: “A solution can only spring from negotiations. To reach a comprehensive political solution, the negotiations should focus on three aspects: the UN resolutions, the Gulf initiative and the Yemen National Dialogue. And as a confidence-building measure, the Al Houthis should immediately cease their reckless ballistic missile attacks on the densely-populated neighborhoods in Saudi Arabia. A solution that undermines Saudi security is no solution at all. Time is of the essence. All efforts to find a solution should be speeded up. Yemen needs peace.”

Writing for Jordan Times, Ali Kassay also blames the Houthis for the deteriorating conditions in Yemen, calling it “a country that could have sustained itself from its limited resources, reduced to abject poverty and famine. And before we blame this on evil imperialist Zionist conspiracies, let us remember the role of flagrant corruption and bad government…. Today, the photos of emaciated babies reduced to skin and bones should have shamed Yemeni leaders into seeking peace; but the obese Mohammad Al Huthi rejected the call for a ceasefire, being more interested in allocating blame for the war than in ending it… It is tragic beyond words, when a country’s leaders are more interested in their PR than in ending the suffering of their people.”

The White House announcement signaling a shift in favor of finding a diplomatic solution is considered a “significant development” by The National’s Mina Al-Oraibi and indicates that there may be some space for putting an end to the violence: “The Americans [are] pushing for ‘substantive consultations’ to begin promptly, overseen by the United Nations, coupled with a halting of hostilities by the end of this month. There is now renewed impetus to end the war and the illegitimate Houthi rule in Sanaa, an opportunity that cannot be squandered again. Too many lives are at stake…. Much of this rests on both Yemeni sides coming to the negotiating table. Iranian-backed elements will be trying to push the Arab-led coalition, supported by the UN, US and European countries, to war. Increased pressure on Tehran, with renewed sanctions, will lead it to push its proxies to more battles.”

The idea of using U.S. sanctions as a tool to bring Iran to the negotiating table over Yemen is also brought up by this Khaleej Times editorial, which considers “reining in Tehran’s aggressiveness” as a sine qua non to the end of the war in Yemen: “Trump’s call for a new, tougher deal could bring Iran back to the negotiating table, apply maximum pressure on the country to change its aggressive behavior, and force Tehran to curb its support to its proxies in the Middle East. Finding themselves besieged, both militarily and politically after the re-imposition of the sanctions, the Houthis have already begun engaging more in the peace process…. And a shrinking economy means choking the funding of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for conducting Iran’s operations abroad. Reining in Tehran’s aggressiveness is therefore a necessity for maintaining stability in the region.”

Iran, for its part, has blamed Saudi Arabia for the deteriorating conditions in Yemen. The Saudis have pushed against such arguments, as seen in this recent Saudi Gazette editorial which expresses frustration with “misrepresentation of the Saudi involvement in the Yemen conflict”: “The extent of the Western – especially liberal and European – media’s misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the Saudi involvement in the Yemen conflict is disheartening and baffling. To them, it looks like a war of choice not of necessity. They seem to believe that 10 Arab and Muslim countries decided one day that it was a good idea to bombard Yemeni towns and villages for no good reason…. Except for some American, British and French leaders, who have clearly and continuously pointed out to their media and the world who is at fault in this tragic war, the rest seem to enjoy playing along with the crowd and falling over themselves to sell us more arms.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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