March-April 2021: Yemen Peace Proposal and More
Sun over the plains of ‘Asir, Saudi Arabia
Been a while since I’ve posted, so just slowly pulling together a few articles on topics of interest. To be updated periodically, leave a comment if there’s something you’d like to see covered.
A fair number of op-eds towards the end of March briefly discussed the Kingdom’s offer of a ceasefire with respect to the Yemen conflict, albeit sustaining support for a de facto blockade of Houthi-controlled territories. The ceasefire proposal generated some coverage that at least suggests what messaging might arise in the event of a more wide-ranging settlement. Generally takeaways:
Yes, to a certain degree the ceasefire permits Saudi actors & commentators to claim the Kingdom is acting in good faith, and only defending itself against attacks thereafter
At the same time, there is more of a rhetorical emphasis on striking a deal with the Houthis vs. fully breaking their control over territory, as we might have seen in the past
From AbdulRahman al-Rashed (emphasis added):
The Houthis wanted to exploit the coming of the new US administration, believing that administration would restrict Saudi power, by expanding the war front and imposing a new reality. Therefore, in the past weeks, they launched attacks to take over Marib and Taiz, yet they suffered great defeats. And they suffer from the bankruptcy of the areas under their control, as they had to collect money from Hodeidah customs, traffic fees, and others. Peace in Yemen is important to the Saudis and before them to the Yemenis, and it is a crisis that fuels differences in the rest of the region. The interest in peace is general, and we must try again. “Is it the end of the Yemen war?,” Aawsat, March 24, 2021
And from our go-to Okaz voices:
It is an initiative that places more restrictions on the actions of the Houthis, and pushes them further into the corner of isolation internally, regionally and internationally. Yet at the same time it gives them a safe way out towards participating in building the future of Yemen! Khalid Al-Suliman, “Yemen between peace and war!” Okaz, March 24, 2021
Here is the Kingdom presenting its initiative out of constant and assured concern for the safety of Yemen, its people and its future, and its continuing to provide everything possible to reach this goal. Yet the Houthis rejected the initiative from the moment it was announced, so what is your position on this arrogance, recklessness and defiance. Hamood Abu Taleb, “The Saudi Initiative and Biden’s Ethical Question,” Okaz, March 24, 2021
There has been less coverage of late, but recent fighting may have shifted appraisals of the situation (or at least framings of it):
[The Houthis are] not a political party that disagreed with the rest of the national political components for the sake of a higher interest, but rather a cancerous tumor that grew in the Yemeni political body and was not eradicated early, so it spread to all of Yemen. It is a militia that cannot continue except in light of conflicts and wars, and the state of peace would threaten its existence and displace it from the scene. The worst is that it does not have its own sovereignty after it became dependent on a foreign country… Will the United Nations, the American administration, and the rest of the international community continue to deal with this terrorist militia as a political party that deserves to participate in shaping the future of Yemen? Will this indolence towards its absurd practices continue after all the opportunities offered to it? It went too far, and it would be a major sin against Yemen, security and peace in the region, if it were allowed to do more than it did. Hamood Abu Taleb, “What happens after the Houthi response to the initiative?” Okaz, March 28, 2021
And from Abdullah Al-Otaibi:
The Houthi militia… has multiple internal alliances, based on the overlap of narrow interests. Such a Saudi initiative exposes these narrow interests and fragile alliances, and puts before everyone the question of homeland and history, which will force some Houthi allies to abandon it and turn away from its involvement in the Iranian project against the Arabs and the Yemenis. The legitimate Yemeni government has confirmed that the Houthis are completely dependent on the Iranian regime. The Houthi’s targeting of the universities of Najran and Jizan and the fuel distribution station in Jaza., all fall within the framework of the Iranian regime’s control over the Houthi’s political and strategic options, and the Houthi’s inability to resist this control. Iran prevents the group from entering into any serious negotiations for ending the war in Yemen, that might allow the restoration of the Yemeni state and the return of security and stability again. “The Saudi initiative … Why do the Houthis refuse?” Aawsat, March 28, 2021
Crown Prince Interview
The Houthis came up in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s interview with Abdullah al-Mudaifer Rotana (4/27) as well:
AAM: We cannot talk about Iran without talking about Yemen. Saudi Arabia has put forward the initiative and it was rejected, one way or the other. So, what is the future of Yemen now? CP: As you well know, this is not the first crisis that happens between Yemen and Saudi Arabia; there was one during the reign of King Abdulaziz, which was resolved. Then there was another one in the 1970s and 1980s, and it was resolved in the 1990s, which was followed by yet a third crisis in 2009. However, we were able to resolve it quickly before the last crisis happened when the Houthis started expanding as of 2014 until they reached Sanaa at the beginning of 2015, when they turned against the legitimate government of Yemen. This is illegal in Yemen and in the eyes of the world. No country would accept to have militias at their borders, or an armed group that operates outside of the law at its borders, this is not acceptable, neither for Saudi Arabia nor for the countries of the region, and it’s also unacceptable in Yemen. We have seen the repercussions of this on Yemen. We really hope that the Houthis will sit with all other Yemeni parties at the negotiations table to reach solutions that guarantee everyone’s rights, and to also safeguard the interests of all the countries in the region. We still have our offer open to ceasefire and provide economic support and everything they need as long as Houthis agree to a ceasefire and sitting on the negotiating table. AAM: Can the Houthis decide themselves or would Tehran be the one to decide? CP: Must we first solve other issue, like the nuclear program, before they agree to sit with us? There is no doubt that the Houthis have strong relations with the Iranian regime, but the Houthis are Yemeni at the end of the day, and they have the Arab and Yemeni instinct that we hope will be even more revived so that they can prioritize their own interests and the interests of their homeland.
Compare with this interview with Asharq al-Aawsat from June 2019:
Unfortunately, Iran obstructed the political process in Yemen through its proxy houthi militias, which started to occupy Yemeni cities and seize the state’s various resources and capabilities. The Kingdom offered all possible opportunities to resolve the situation through peaceful means, but Iran was following a policy of imposing a new reality in Arab countries by force of arms. Unfortunately, the international community at the time did not confront Iran’s expansionist and sectarian agenda. Iran therefore, continued to try, through its militias, to impose its control in Yemen. The Yemeni people and leadership, however, made a historic stand against this Iranian interference… Most Yemeni territories have been liberated and we have supported all efforts to reach a political solution to the crisis. Unfortunately, the Houthi militias prioritize Iran’s agenda over the interests of Yemen and its people. We have recently witnessed the terrorist attack on oil facilities and Najran airport, which the Houthis boasted of claiming. This once again demonstrates that these militias do not care for the interests of the Yemeni people or any political process to resolve the crisis. Their actions reflect the priorities of Tehran, not Sanaa… We accept the participation of all Yemeni parties in the political process, but according to the three references. The Kingdom will not accept the militias to remain outside state control. We will pursue this ultimate goal and maintain our operations and continue on offering support to the Yemeni people in their effort to protect their independence and sovereignty despite our sacrifice. The Kingdom will also maintain its humanitarian and economic relief in Yemen. We not only seek to liberate Yemen from the Iranian militias, but achieve prosperity and stability for all of the people of Yemen.