As US President Joe Biden declares the need to end the war in Yemen, and as Riyadh and the legitimate Yemeni government welcome his statement, it is important to remember that this objective has been at the core of efforts made over the past five years by the UN, Saudi Arabia and the Arab Coalition to Support legitimacy in Yemen with known international and American cooperation. However, these efforts all failed, which begs the question: Who doesn’t want to end the war in Yemen? While the Houthis were quick to welcome Biden’s statement, their position cannot be trusted as it simply conforms with Washington’s position, which happens to also benefit their demands and unrealistic ambitions in Yemen. Also, the Houthis tend to forget that they overthrew legitimacy and the role they played in thwarting all negotiations that tried to find a political solution to the crisis, especially the 2016 negotiations in Kuwait that did make some progress. Before the conclusion of the latter, the Houthis proved that their decisions were not their own, and this will reflect onto any future negotiations too.
Certainly, the war can come to an end but how, when and on what legal basis? As part of the efforts of the US, the newly appointed special envoy for Yemen Timothy Lenderking was tasked with coordinating support to handle the humanitarian crisis as well as efforts to establish a permanent ceasefire in preparation for negotiations to reach a political solution. However, the US and the UN must first review the causes of the war rather than rely on “de facto” situations and “de facto forces” as these are not good bases for a new system that can guarantee stability in Yemen.
The simple fact is that only legitimacy can form the foundation of the future of Yemen, and this doesn’t apply to the Houthis. They are merely a copy of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Popular Mobilization Forces Iraq, the Fatemiyoun in Afghanistan or the Zainabiyoun in Pakistan. They are all militias known for their destruction and that do not recognise any authority or law outside the frames of their own “states.”
Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation weighs heavy and has the international community worried, and rightly so. Aid organisations should provide an objective assessment of the entities and obstacles that are hindering the distribution of assistance to those who need it and deserve it the most. Interestingly, there are countries and organisations that minimise the pressure of this painful and deteriorating situation to obtain concessions from Coalition countries. At the same time, they ignore the role the Houthis play and their direct daily actions in terrorising Yemenis and confiscating their properties and savings, pushing them further into poverty and misery. With time, the Houthis have started to use Yemenis as hostages and to use the humanitarian issue as a source of empowerment and a means to blackmail the international community by calling for an end to the blockade imposed on them, all while they enforce internal blockades on regions outside their control.
President Biden talked about a “humanitarian disaster.” On one hand this designation is understandable, on the other it is “strategic” and requires further explanation. Further clarification is also needed for the connection he made between ending the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the commitment to support it in protecting its sovereignty and territories. For this policy to be new and effective, the debate should be settled in the US regarding the strategies to be adopted when dealing with the region and its security. There is a large difference between the methods of implementing Donald Trump’s strategy and Barack Obama’s strategy, that seems weak in comparison. Both strategies have been deemed useless by analysts. The Biden administration may be in the process of developing its own strategy, the implementation of which will start with Yemen. However, its priority regarding this issue requires collaboration from Iran that has other priorities, namely the lifting of sanctions. Consequently, its cooperation in Yemen will be conditional on what the Houthis demand. The possibility of the Houthis acknowledging a legitimate government, or even other “partners,” in the rule and control of Yemen has now long passed.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Emirati publication al-Ittihad.