When will we see an end to the war in Yemen?

New DelhiWritten By: Annu KaushikUpdated: Apr 13, 2021, 11:30 AM IST


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When Saudi Arabia recently offered peace to Houthi rebels, the message was clear: “The Houthis must decide whether to put their interests first or Iran’s interests first.”

Despite occasional peace overtures, the conflict in Yemen is continuing unabated, with Saudi Arabia and Iran supporting either sides of the surrogate war.

On Monday, the Iran-backed Houthi rebels claimed to have launched drone strikes against Saudi energy giant Aramco's facilities, amid an upsurge in fighting between the insurgents and the Riyadh-backed government in northern Yemen.

Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea said the group had fired 17 drones and two missiles towards the kingdom.

On Sunday, the Saudi-led coalition said it had intercepted and destroyed six armed Houthi drones.

The coalition entered the war after the Houthis ousted the internationally recognised government from the capital Sanaa. Last week, intense fighting between pro-government forces and Houthi rebels on three fronts, in which missiles and machine guns were fired, killed 70 people in a day.

When will this conflict end?

When Saudi Arabia recently offered peace to Houthi rebels, the message was clear: “The Houthis must decide whether to put their interests first or Iran’s interests first.”

The Houthis rejected the olive branch, saying Riyadh was not offering anything new.

The failure of the peace attempt did not come as a surprise. The Yemeni Civil War that began in 2014 has been in stalemate for a long time.

But the move showed the Gulf kingdom’s sense of urgency to exit the conflict, especially after successful Houthi strikes on Saudi oil facilities.


The Iran-Saudi Arabia proxy war

The war has become the focal point of the rivalry between the Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and Shia-majority Iran.

Saudi intervened in Yemen in 2015, a few months after the Houthis ousted the country’s internationally recognised government from power. Riyadh has been leading a military coalition in favour of the government.

Its intervention has been direct, while Iran’s involvement has been covert. The Islamic Republic has publicly denied that it is providing military support to Houthi rebels who are Shias, though the experts think otherwise.

Saudi’s stakes in Yemen are higher than Iran’s

The scale of Saudi intervention in Yemen should not be underestimated. The Saudi-led coalition includes countries in West Asia, North Africa, and mercenaries. The alliance also received intelligence from the United States.

Yet, the Gulf kingdom has been suffering setbacks. It has been the target of Houthi drone attacks. It is suspected that Iran supplied the unmanned aerial vehicles to Houthis.

The Saudi-led coalition is not as strong on the ground. There have been infighting within local forces supporting the alliance. The coalition also saw withdrawal of members as the war hit an impasse.

Most notably, one of Saudi's main allies UAE pulled the bulk of its troops out of Yemen in 2019.

There has been international criticism of the war which has resulted in civilian casualties and destruction of heritage sites and hospitals, besides causing massive hunger and child malnutrition and deaths, worsened by the coronavirus pandemic.

The United Nations called Yemen situation the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Interestingly, Iran has mostly been spared the global backlash due its underhand role in the war.

Despite all the complications, Saudi is not ready for an unconditional withdrawal.

It’s strategic interests in Yemen are high.

Saudi Arabia shares a border with Yemen and cannot afford to have a pro-Iran establishment led by the Shias as its neighbour.

Iran also has a lot to lose in the prolonged conflict. Funding the proxy war has been taking a toll on the cash-strapped Islamic Republic.

But for the war to resolve, rivals Saudi and Iran will have to come to the negotiation table which seems unlikely in the near future.

Till then, the two countries will continue to remain mired in an unending war

(Disclaimer: The views of the writer do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. Nor does WION or ZMCL endorse the views of the writer.)