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The price of peace in Yemen

Despite the Houthis’ attack on Saudi Aramco installations and the “unconfirmed” capture of 2,000 Saudi soldiers, there still might be a prospect of peace, if the armed movement ceases military operations, writes Haitham Nouri

Haitham Nouri , Wednesday 2 Oct 2019
The price of peace in Yemen
Houthi fighters on an allegedly captured Saudi vehicle after an acclaimed attack near the border with Saudi Arabia’s southern region of Najran in Yemen (photo: Reuters)

Yemen’s Houthis announced Monday they would release hundreds of prisoners, including Saudi Arabians, one day after the group, aka Ansarullah, released photographs and videos of the Houthis attacking Saudi forces. The authenticity of the videos is yet to be confirmed.

The military movement said Saturday it had captured 2,000 Saudi soldiers (three brigades) and killed 500 military personnel. Saudi Arabia didn’t release independent confirmation, nor did the Arab Coalition, led by Riyadh, respond to the Houthi claim.

The video footage and photographs showed men, not wearing military attire, with the Houthis saying the captives were Saudi Arabian soldiers.

On Sunday, Houthi Spokesperson Mohamed Abdel-Salam said at a press conference that “Operation Victory from God is the largest military one since the brutal aggression began [on Yemen],” in reference to the Arab Coalition support of the internationally recognised government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

“The enemy suffered heavy losses,” said Abdel-Salam on the attack on Najran, a southern region in Saudi Arabia which borders Yemen, that took place three days prior to Saturday.

He added that the operations will continue for a long time, particularly after “wide swathes of territory were liberated in only a few days”. Abdel-Salam, however, didn’t clarify which lands he was referring to.

The Saudis had no other option but to study how to retreat from Yemen, he added.

Unofficial Saudi responses claimed the videos and photographs released by the Houthis were taken from older battles, but no official response has been issued yet.

On 15 September, the Houthi movement claimed responsibility for a drone attack a day earlier on oil installations belonging to the Saudi Aramco. The oil company is the world’s largest and the attack affected production of 5.7 billion barrels per day, or more than half of the kingdom’s daily production.

The Houthis insisted on claiming their responsibility for the attack, despite Riyadh’s announcement that the missiles that targeted the installations were fired from Iraq, with Iranian planning and execution.

Tehran denied responsibility, implying it was their Houthi allies who conducted the operation.

Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of supporting the Houthis militarily and financially, and turning them into a militia similar to Lebanon’s Hizbullah, the biggest force in Beirut.

Many anti-Iran observers believe the vilayet-e-faqih regime has controlled four Arab capitals: Baghdad, since the fall of Saddam Hussein; Damascus, since its support of Bashar Al-Assad’s rule; Beirut, via Hizbullah; and Sanaa, via the Houthis.

The Houthis are counting on the fact that they had previously launched missile attacks on Saudi cities, believing that this will give more credibility to their latest operation, dubbed “Victory from God”.

Following the 14 September Aramco attack, the Houthis announced they were ready to cease  drone operations in return for Saudi Arabia stopping its attacks in Yemen.

The Guardian reported Western diplomats as saying that Saudi Arabia offered to cease attacks on some Yemeni regions in preparation for political talks with the Houthis.

The British daily said the Saudi offer was an extension of the UAE announcement of its partial withdrawal from the war-torn country. It added the Saudi and UAE decisions were based on their conviction that a military solution for Yemen is impossible.

The fact is however, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi repeatedly said a political solution was the only way to solve the Yemeni conundrum.

Besides, the two Arab capitals didn’t want to defeat the Houthis in the first place. They merely wanted to limit Iranian influence on Saudi Arabia’s southern borders.

On the other hand, many observers tend not to believe that the “Victory from God” operation, if its authenticity were proven, could bring peace to the wretched country, but would rather increase tensions and complicate efforts to promote peace in the next few months.

A day after the Houthi press conference, the Houthi Masira channel announced the militant movement was going to release 350 prisoners, including three Saudis, in implementation of an agreement struck with the legitimate government in Stockholm in December 2018.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which facilitated the release of 290 prisoners, said the released Yemenis returned home.

The two warring parties in Yemen had agreed on the release of 7,000 prisoners from both ends.

Although the war in Yemen is nearing its fifth year, the battle lines remain almost the same, with the Houthis controlling the majority of northern Yemen, where the majority of Yemenis reside.

The Arab Coalition was introduced to the conflict in May 2015 on request from Hadi’s government which was forced out of the capital Sanaa in late 2014.

Meanwhile, the Yemeni forces loyal to Hadi indulged in internal fights that resulted in the Southern Transitional Council — which calls for the return of the republic of southern Yemen — taking control over Aden, the temporary capital of the legitimate government.

All Hadi is left with is the Islah Party, the political front of the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen, in addition to a few military brigades that were part of the army during the rule of late president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The war in Yemen has resulted in the death of thousands and the displacement of millions of Yemenis. A third of the population is on the verge of famine, one the United Nations warned would be “the worst famine in the world in decades” if it occurred.

The World Health Organisation and the International Committee of the Red Cross reported that cholera was spreading in Yemeni regions and that about a million Yemenis were suspected of contracting the epidemic.

Is there a chance for peace? If so, it will not transpire in Yemen without significant compromises on both sides and a regional solution to the Saudi-Iranian conflict.


*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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