The Political Process in the Yemen Crisis: Why the West Wants to End the Yemen Crisis?

Hossein Ajorlou
December 2018

Following a flurry of internal developments in Yemen, which saw the country’s Houthi Ansarullah fighters rise to power as former president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, was ousted, Saudi Arabia took a measure against the norms and principles of international politics by militarily interfering in that country’s affairs. Under the pretext of supporting the legal government of Hadi, Saudi Arabia has been massacring the people of Yemen and destroying its infrastructure for about four years in cooperation with a number of other Arab states, especially the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Sudan and Bahrain.
Ansarullah and the Yemeni army have put up strong resistance to this invasion and have so far managed to prevent Saudi Arabia and its allies from achieving their goals. An important issue regarding the crisis in Yemen is the support given to Saudi Arabia and the UAE by some big powers such as the United States and the UK. One result of that support has been cooperation of those powers with Saudi Arabia in laying land, air and marine blockade on Yemen. Now, following several years of unbridled support, some American officials, including former secretary of defense, James Mattis, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have urged both sides to this conflict to put an end to the Yemen war. On the other hand, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has made a similar demand. Such requests finally prompted the UN special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, to boost his activities and pave the way for the beginning of a renewed round of political talks between the two sides near the end of 2018 in Sweden. At the same time, the British foreign secretary paid separate visits to a number of regional countries, including the Islamic Republic of Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where Yemen and its crisis formed the main axis of his negotiations with officials in those countries.
In the meantime, forces loyal to Hadi, who have the support of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, increased their attacks on the strategic port of Hudaydah, so as to use it as a trump card in future negotiations. However, the attacks were repelled by Ansarullah and a fragile cease-fire went into effect through mediation of international parties in Hudaydah. The cease-fire as well as the promise by Ansarullah to curtail their missile and drone attacks against Saudi Arabia on top of the aforementioned developments can be considered as signs that new grounds are being broken for ending the ongoing crisis in Yemen. In view of the above facts, the question is what factors and grounds have strengthened the peace discourse with regard to Yemen, and what goals are being pursued by each and every one of the actors involved in this process? The following cases can be mentioned when examining the reasons behind the current state of affairs:
1.The need for strategic coherence to focus on Iran: After the appointment of John Bolton as US President Donald Trump's national security advisor, and Mike Pompeo as secretary of state, the anti-Iran circle in the White House was made complete. It appears that this circle is putting its focus on Iran in order to forge some sort of strategic coherence in the White House’s anti-Iran policies and also the policies of the United States’ regional allies. The signs of this strategic coherence include: promotion of the so-called “Deal of the Century” to solve the Zionist regime’s problems with its Arab neighbors, an effort to implement a strategic initiative in the Middle East known as the Arab NATO, and intensification of international sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran.
There are, however, a number of obstacles to achievement of that strategic coherence with the involvement of the US allies in marginal crises, including the crisis in Yemen, being one of the most important of those obstacles. It seems that American officials have reached the conclusion that Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Yemen crisis has not only failed to weaken Iran’s influence in the region, but has also scuttled Saudi Arabia’s standing as one of the main pillars in the plan to promote the aforementioned strategic coherence against Iran.
2.Murder of Khashoggi: The murder of dissident Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, created severe international human rights backlash against Saudi Arabia. These conditions, in addition to Saudi Arabia’s crimes against the Yemeni people and the humanitarian crisis resulting from them, have increased pressure of the public opinion in the West, especially in the United States, against Saudi Arabia’s measures. As a result, the cost of alliance with and support of Saudi Arabia has greatly increased. This issue has made the White House think of ways to reduce this cost. Resolution of the crisis in Yemen can somehow improve this situation. The pressure of the public opinion and the pressure exerted by international legal bodies and human rights organizations have been effective in this regard.
3.Ensuring energy security: The United States and its allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, have started an economic war against the Islamic Republic, especially by launching sanctions against the country’s oil sector. However, the main condition for the success of their measures is their ability to stabilize global oil prices. To do this, they have adopted various policies, including increasing the oil price, considering waivers from Iran sanctions for some countries importing the Iranian oil, and so forth. On the other hand, the Islamic Republic has announced that it considers oil exports as a vital and strategic issue and, as such, has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz if unable to export its oil. Possible closure of the Strait of Hormuz will double the importance of Bab-el-Mandeb strait. Iran’s presence in the Red Sea and the possibility of disruption in global oil exports is a real fear. For example, disruption in Saudi Arabia’s oil tanker operations on May 25, 2018 led to fluctuations in the global energy price and proved Iran’s ability to affect two international straits. It seems that resolution of the Yemen crisis under the present circumstances will lead to creation of a legal and political regime in this region in order to prevent any possible measures by Iran’s allied forces in this region. This is why American officials have opined that establishment of such a regime is necessary to guarantee smooth transfer of energy.
4.Preventing escalation of differences between Saudi Arabia and the UAE: Different goals have been pursued by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates after they entered into war with Yemen and this issue has caused discord between the two countries. An example to the point is recent differences between the two countries with regard to al-Mukalla region in Hadhramaut province in southern Yemen, which was revealed by various media outlets. Although such differences have not had major external manifestations, if no serious achievement is gained in the war on the ground, they may intensify and pave the way for divergence between these two countries with regards to other regional and international issues. Therefore, while taking note of the crisis in Saudi Arabia’s relations with Qatar, which disrupted the process of containing Iran, the leaders in the White House believe that further intensification of tensions between Saudi Arabia and the UAE will deal irreparable blows to solidarity between these US allies and this would be to Iran’s benefit. As a result, resolution of the Yemen crisis will reduce grounds for further escalation of these differences.
5.Quality of Saudi Arabia and Emirati military forces: As said before, military forces of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are of low quality. On the opposite, Iran’s success in suppressing the Daesh terrorist group, stabilizing the political system in Syria, and supporting resistance of Ansarullah fighters as Iran’s allies in Yemen, have boosted credibility of Iran’s military forces. Despite the short period given by Americans to Saudi Arabia and the UAE to end the Yemen war, it does not seem possible that they can have any remarkable achievement in this regard. Therefore, from the viewpoint of American officials, continuation of the ongoing war will prove the above fact; that is, the high quality of Iran’s military forces in the region. Such turn of events will by no means be in line with the United States’ interests.
6.Lack of any bright prospect in the continuation of Yemen crisis for the United States and its allies: In view of its heavy military and human rights costs and due to absence of any remarkable achievement on the ground, there would be no bright prospect in sight if the Yemen crisis continues. The only spinoff of its continuation will be an even higher cost for all involved parties. This issue will undermine the United States’ large-scale strategy toward Iran.
7.Increased internal discontent in Yemen: During the past few months, several factors have been at work to cause division in the opposite front of Yemen’s Ansarullah fighters. Those factors include: 1.inability of Mansur Hadi’s government to have any remarkable achievements in the area of politics or the war on the ground; 2. excessive demands put forth by those close to Hadi; 3. major economic problems, including devaluation of Yemen’s national currency, riyal, and long delays in the payment of salary to civil servant; and 4. dissatisfaction of southern Yemeni parties with Hadi’s policies. These factors have made way for certain political turnarounds, which although still on a limited scale, may provide ground for a change in the political balance in favor of Ansarullah. It appears that this state of affairs has stirred concerns in the United States and Saudi Arabia. As a result, a meeting was held in the middle of November 2018 attended by officials from the United States, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the UK. The meeting, which focused on fighting the economic crisis in Yemen, meant to find a solution for the country’s economic crisis and heightened public discontent of Hadi’s government. The participating countries reached the conclusion that the current course of developments in the Yemen war was not to the benefit of their allies in the country.
8.Intelligence and military assessments: Although no intelligence and military assessment of the Yemen crisis has been so far released by Western and Arab security and military institutions, it is possible that if such assessments existed, they would point to lack of a bright prospect for the continuation of the crisis in Yemen. Direct involvement of the US Department of Defense in this issue can be a sign of this fact. In general, decisions about such developments are left to the Department of State. Therefore, direct involvement of the Department of Defense serves to confirm such assessments.
The experience of four years of war in Yemen shows that Saudi Arabia and its Western allies, especially the United States, sought to reduce Iran's regional influence while meeting a maximum degree of their own interests. However, their approach has led to the failure of political processes in restoring peace to the country. Recent emphasis put by American and British officials on the need to put an end to the Yemen crisis is indicative of a change in their policies and strategies toward Yemen. The most important reasons behind that change include the necessity of focusing on Iran, pressures from human rights groups, the need to ensure smooth flow of energy, and possibly to make way for conducting intelligence and military assessments.