Houthi attacks in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, as well as the Western response to these Yemeni rebel attacks, are crippling efforts to end the war in Yemen and endangering the fate of the people of a country already in ruins.
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The laborious negotiations only gained momentum in December, when the United Nations announced that the belligerents had agreed to work toward “the resumption of an inclusive political process.”
Yemen, the poorest country on the Arabian Peninsula, has been mired in a civil war since 2014, pitting the government, backed by a Saudi-led military coalition since 2015, against the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels that divide of the entire country control the capital Sanaa.
The war has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, direct and indirect victims of the conflict, and, according to the United Nations, created one of the world's worst humanitarian crises, with “malnutrition rates among the highest ever recorded” and numbering “17.6 million.” People will face acute food insecurity in 2024.
The country has experienced a lull since a ceasefire negotiated by the United Nations in April 2022, but in the context of the war between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Houthis have waged dozens of wars in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, with attacks on ships , who they say are linked to Israel and say they are acting in solidarity with the Palestinians.
In response to attacks that have significantly disrupted the movement of goods worldwide since November, the United States and the United Kingdom have carried out several strikes in Yemen against the Houthis, who again reported the deaths of 17 rebels in new attacks on February 8.
The peace plan “is no longer on the table”
Analysts warn that growing tensions in the region could derail peace efforts in Yemen, where the United Nations reported progress in December in developing a roadmap to resolve outstanding issues.
Given the crisis in the Red Sea, “the peace plan no longer has a place on the discussion table,” estimates Majid Al-Madhaji of the Center for Strategic Studies in Sanaa, for which the Riyadh-backed Yemeni government would They are now looking for an “opportunity to shift the balance of power in their favor.”
“The path to war was closed, but now the door to hell is open again,” warns Farea Al-Muslimi, a researcher at the Chatham House Group, estimating that “peace in Yemen requires international and regional commitments that… different from those that currently exist.”
Houssein al-Ezzi, a senior official of the Houthis, which Washington is once again labeling a “terrorist” group, recently reported “obstacles” to the path to peace that he attributed to the United States, the Kingdom and the Yemeni government. But “Riyadh and Sanaa have the courage to overcome these difficulties,” he assured.
A senior Yemeni government official in January called for foreign support for a ground operation to support U.S.-British airstrikes against the Houthis.
“Observe from a distance”
But “we will not go down that path,” Gerald Feierstein, a former American ambassador to Yemen, told AFP: The United States is under “strong pressure not to do anything that could harm the peace negotiations.”
The same goes for retired General Joseph Votel, the former head of the American Central Command, who believes it is “more important (…) to resolve the situation in Gaza and restore some form of deterrence against Iran.”
Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally seeking an exit from the Yemen war, has not joined the multinational maritime coalition formed by Washington to protect shipping in the region, striking a delicate balancing act.
Riyadh expressed “great concern” after the first series of attacks by the US and Britain against the Houthis on January 12 and called for “restraint”.
Saudi Arabia “will watch from afar to see how far Washington goes, but it will not fight with the Houthis unless they target its territory,” said researcher Farea Al-Muslimi.
But even if Riyadh has chosen to sideline tensions in the Red Sea, “the international community is less likely to support a peace plan in Yemen for fear of rewarding the Houthis for their attacks in the Red Sea.” , emphasizes Mohammed al-Basha from the US-based Navanti Research Group.