Saudi Diplomacy Won’t Bring Peace to Yemen

March 29, 2023 | Nadwa Al-Dawsari
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Last Sunday marked the eighth anniversary of a Saudi-led alliance’s intervention in the Yemeni civil war, intended to defeat the Iran-backed Houthi militia that had overthrown the previous government. In the wake of the rapprochement between Riyadh and Tehran, diplomats are hoping that the talks between the Saudis and the Houthis—which have been ongoing since last summer—will finally succeed in ending the war. To Nadwa Al-Dawsari, such an outcome seems highly unlikely:

The Houthis’ military gains have allowed them to dictate the path of international diplomacy in Yemen. They know Saudi Arabia is desperate to extricate itself and the international community wants the Yemen problem to go away. They do not recognize and refuse to negotiate with the [Riyadh-supported] Presidential Leadership Council or other Yemeni factions that they cast as “Saudi mercenaries.”

Indeed, even as the Houthis were making progress in talks with the Saudis, the rebel group continued to expand its recruitment, mobilization, and stockpiling of arms during last year’s truce as Iran significantly increased its weapons shipments. The group also carried out a series of attacks. . . . On March 23, the Houthis conducted a military drill close to the Saudi border to remind the Saudis of “the cost of no agreement and further concessions.”

The Houthis are still part and parcel of Iran’s so-called “axis of resistance.” With the Houthis gaining international political recognition, . . . Iran will have a greater chance to expand its influence in Yemen with the blessing of Western powers. The international community is eager for a “success story” in Yemen, even if that means a sham political settlement that will likely see the civil war continue. A deal with the Houthis is Saudi Arabia’s desperate plea to wash its hands of Yemen, but in the long term it could very well position Iran to threaten regional and international security. More importantly, it might set Yemen on a course of protracted conflict that will create vast ungoverned spaces.

Meanwhile, tensions in Yemen between Saudi Arabia and its ostensible ally, the United Arab Emirates, are rising, while the Houthis are developing the capability to launch missiles at Israel or to block a crucial Middle Eastern maritime chokepoint in the Red Sea.

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