Yemen: "political cholera"

Summary: military and political deadlock in Yemen. A claim to be the world’s biggest man-made humanitarian catastrophe.
Since our posting of 15 May “Yemen: cholera, the South” reporting on the war in Yemen has been scanty, concentrating mainly on civilian deaths from Saudi airstrikes and on cholera and famine.

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  1. Not only did the UNSC commit to a one-sided UNSCR, but UNSCR2216 was also maximalist, thus leaving little wiggle room should everything not go entirely according to plan. No plan survives contact with the enemy ….
    Not only has “the assumption that the Saudi-led coalition supported by a Yemeni government could do the job […] proved to be unrealistic”, but it was always going to be so, as previous experiences in Yemen – particularly the Sa’udis’ 2009/2010 campaign – made clear. Complex terrain, such as Yemen’s mountains, favours the defender, and neutralises many high-tech capabilities.
    “insistence that President Asad should go has turned out to be unrealistic in the absence of adequate force to remove him” – Not only that, but there is also a lack of an agreed desired end state if al-Asad (/ ARM Hadi goes.) Few Yemenis want any of the previous self-serving elite to continue in power; many Southerners want outright secession. The last thing GCC members want on the peninsula is a successful republic with an independent foreign policy!
    “to restore former president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government to power” – this is one of Sa’udi’s several ‘inaccuracies’: ARM Hadi was only a transitional president; the one year extension of his two year mandate had lapsed in mid-Feb 2015.
    “Both sides also have external backers (Iran for the Houthis and the Saudis for Hadi) that view Yemen as ground zero in their larger regional struggle for influence.” The IRI probably regard Iraq as “ground zero”; Yemen is more of a sideshow from the Iranian point of view (but a very effective distraction to the Sunni Arab monarchies, who have mostly ignored al-Sham since Mar 15.) Similarly, the relationship with and level of support by Iran for the Huthis is far less than that of the KSA-led Coalition for ARM Hadi.
    “This makes it unlikely — despite recent media reports suggesting Saudi interest in seeking a way out of the conflict — that either will abandon the field anytime soon.” Actually, the reports of KSA looking for a way out are more likely to make the Huthis and Salihis stay in the field: the main advantage the Coalition have is air-power. When KSA / UAE have not provided it, the forces fighting the Huthi / Salihis have suffered reverses.
    “It will be even more difficult to achieve peace between the warring parties if there is internal fighting within them.” Once the external backers / whippers-in leave, it is likely that the various coalitions will splinter and the resulting factions will fight each other (formally!) Interestingly, it looks like the Huthis and the Salihis both regard each other as the greatest threat, rather than their current foes (who are also likely to splinter further.)
    “Houthi missiles and speed boats also threaten the strategically important Bab-al-Mandeb Strait, through nearly all maritime trade between Europe and Asia passes.” This is another Sa’udi IO line which is simply not borne out by the facts. The Huthi / Salihi attacks have been (surprisingly) discriminating, attacking only military, belligerent shipping with missiles; they have mined the approaches to Mocha and Midi harbours; and have also used an unmanned explosive boat to try to attack Jizan harbour. (Whether this was a USV, or merely had the steering gear lashed is unclear.)
    “the thousands of al-Qaeda and Islamic State fighters, who are undoubtedly using the turmoil to recruit, train and plot operations.” More importantly, the Jihadis now have top specification materiel, some dispensed carelessly by the Coalition, some sold onto the black market by Yemeni fighters supplied by the Coalition. The price of materiel on the Yemeni market has plumetted in the past couple of years.
    “with legitimate international concerns about civilian casualties from the conflict, particularly from the Saudi-led air campaign.” There are also legitimate international concerns about civilian casualties from US airstrikes. Ironically, the brief period when the US and the Huthis were working symbiotically against AQAP was very effective: the Huthis tended to use small arms against AQAP, with far fewer “collateral” casualties; the USAF / CIA UAVs would strike AQAP fighters who had been flushed out by the Huthis. (Unlike AAS, there was absolutely no doubt that the Huthis wanted to kill AQAP.)
    “The United States has a clear interest not only in supporting the kingdom’s legitimate self-defense requirements”. Yes, but this is another inaccuracy being bruited around by the Sa’udis. The Huthis (and AAS) did not threaten the Sa’udis until the Sa’udis issued an ultimatum then reportedly mobilised and directed their forces towards Yemen. Only then did the Huthis stage a military demonstration (inside Yemen) and warned Sa’udi that if Sa’udi attacked Yemen, the Huthis would respond. At the time, the Huthis and the Salihis were in fact advancing on Aden (on the south coast of the Arabian Peninsula) when the Sa’udis attacked; Sa’udi Arabia is north of Yemen!

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