With Ansarullah’s move toward south Yemen gathering pace by the day, the Aden-based government of the beleaguered President Abd Mansour Hadi has been desperate for military assistance. Rumors that Hadi fled Aden were denied by Foreign Minister Riad Yassin.
Yassin confirmed earlier this week the request for the GCC to intervene militarily against Ansarullah. According to Yassin, Hadi’s government also submitted a request to the U.N. Security Council to allow "willing countries" to take measures to halt Ansarullah’s aggression.
Earlier this week, the revivalist Zaydi movement took over al-Anad air base just 60km north of Aden. It also controlled the airport and parts of the city of Taiz, Yemen’s third largest. A public protest against their presence was met with gunfire which killed at least five civilians. Further east in Bayda and Marib, clashes between Ansarullah’s forces and local tribes who have pledged support to Hadi or at least have long declared their opposition to Ansarullah, left several dead on both sides.
Under the self-declared aim of fighting Sunni extremists, reinforced by the brutal suicide bombings inside two mosques in Sanaa that killed over 130 people, Ansarullah’s ultimate goal is to reach Aden. Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula issued a declaration denying its involvement. Instead, the likely culprit is a local branch of ISIS.
The idea of intervention
The very mention of an intervention in Yemen sounds like a bad idea. It is hard to think of a more complex crisis with so many intervenients and so many competing political and territorial loyalties, adding to a complicated terrain and geography. The thousands of Egyptian troops that President Nasser sent to north Yemen in the 1960s quickly found that out.
Surely, no foreign government is keen on an intervention in Yemen, whatever form it might take. Saudi Arabia’s military build-up on the border looks for now like a defensive move and not part of preparations for a ground invasion.
But what is also looking increasingly clear is that without a more serious threat of use of force against the spoilers, namely former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and especially Ansarullah’s increasing aggression and violence, the situation has all the potential to go from bad to worse. The long-term costs for Yemen and for the security of its neighbors could be huge.
U.N. Security Council Resolution 2201, adopted unanimously in February this year, demanded Ansarullah to give up power. It called on all Yemenis and especially the revivalist Zaydi movement to abide by the GCC Initiative, the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference, and the Peace and National Partnership Agreement signed by all factions after Ansarullha’s take-over of Sanaa in September. More important, at least in theory, it urged all parties to complete the constitutional consultation process, hold a referendum on the constitution and conduct long overdue elections.
Although it recalled resolution 2140 from February last year that defined the situation in Yemen as a threat to international peace and security, resolution 2201 made no reference to enforcement measures under Chapter VII of the charter. It simply declared a “readiness to take further steps in case of non-implementation.”
The involvement of the permanent members of the Security Council in this crisis has often looked almost detached from reality, moving always a few steps behind developments on the ground. The recent declaration by U.N. special envoy to Yemen, Jamal Ben Omar, talks with all parties would be held in Doha sounded like a desperate call in the face of Ansarullah’s determination to resort to violence to achieve their aims.
The only enforcement measures the U.N. Security Council has pushed for was the imposition of targeted sanctions (in the form of a global travel ban and an asset freeze) on Saleh and two Ansarullah military leaders, Abd al-Khaliq al-Huthi and Abdullah Yahya al Hakim. How exactly this was expected to have a meaningful impact on their actions within Yemen on the short-term is puzzling.
If it is not already too late, the U.N. Security Council should urgently pass a resolution under Chapter VII of the charter, calling for the imposition of a no-fly and protection zones over Aden and other areas not controlled by Ansarullah. It should also recall all its previous demands, but this time backed by enforcement measures in case of non-compliance.
The revivalist Zaydi movement will have to be part of a negotiated solution, given their power and strong support base among some tribes. Yet for any deal to happen, their leadership needs to be confronted with some hard power to go back to the negotiations table.
The alternative is a terrible scenario. Various local groups will try to fight Iran-backed Ansarullah in a very complex civil war, with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State’s local franchise taking advantage of the chaos. In the meanwhile, much of Yemen will be jointly ruled with brutality by the forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, the main responsible for this whole mess, and Ansarullah, whose radicalism and incapacity to govern are now on full display. That is, of course, if those two factions do not become embroiled in their own northern civil war. Not a pretty sight for Yemen and the region.
Manuel Almeida is a writer, researcher and consultant on the Middle East. He holds a PhD in International Relations from the London of Economics and Political Science and was an editor at Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. He can be reached on @_ManuelAlmeida on Twitter.