Recent fighting in Yemen has all been about battles among the rebels themselves. The Houthis are competing with Ali Abdullah Saleh’s loyalists as they seek to control their camp after they killed him.
Clashes have recently expanded in Houthi-controlled areas and the humanitarian situation thus worsened after it had relatively stabilized. The situation is also bad in other battlefields and areas which are under the control of the Houthi movement that is a religiously and politically extremist group.
David Miliband, president and chief executive of the International Rescue Committee and former British foreign secretary, recently wrote an op-ed entitled Time is running out for Yemen in the Washington Post.
The piece is about the humanitarian suffering in Yemen as a result of the ongoing conflict. I agree with him that in wars, like Yemen’s, civilians are the ones who mostly suffer. However, I disagree with him that the Houthi movement is a group which we can make concessions to without leading to future risks that we will all regret.
The rebels have sought to control main facilities, including airports, ports and roads, and used them to make financial gains. According to some estimates, the Houthis make around $5 billion by reselling transported goods and collecting money from people using these passages and from traders transporting merchandise.
Three essential steps
Miliband said three immediate steps are essential which are ending the coalition’s blockade on ports, committing to a ceasefire, even if it is a unilateral one since the Houthis will not agree to one, and moving towards a political settlement. These three measures basically mean handing over ports to the Houthis and empowering them in the lands they control. The end-result would be their victory!
Houthi movement is not a rebellion that wants to defeat its rivals and seize power, as is the case with other conflicts. It is just like al-QaedaAbdulrahman al-Rashed
The alliance may have to accept Miliband’s calls, just to steer away from accusations. However, this move will not achieve the main aim of ending the humanitarian tragedy and transferring food and medical supplies. People who suffer the most are in conflict areas and in Houthi-controlled areas. Therefore, the aid they receive will be distributed however the Houthis want, and the Houthis believe that controlling supplies is essential to impose their presence. The second challenge which worries the alliance, and particularly Saudi Arabia, is that if Miliband’s measures are adopted, who will guarantee that missiles are not delivered to Houthis?
Who will prevent Iran and Qatar, which funds the regional smuggling market, from shipping missiles to the Houthis? Who will hold them accountable? Will Saudi Arabia simply accept to be showered by dozens of rockets? Of course not. Therefore, the ceasefire will fail and the war will erupt again. The tragedy will worsen if the Houthis expand their influence thanks to the truce.
Miliband also addressed the inspection mechanism which has used Djibouti to inspect ferries and ships and allow them to sail to ports like Hodeidah’s. It later turned out however that Iran is still capable of smuggling illegal goods via the sea by exploiting this weak inspection system. Tehran is aware that the international community has delayed holding it accountable. Therefore, the effectiveness of these control and inspection regulations cannot be relied on. So how does Miliband answer to this dangerous point?
Blaming the alliance
He had requested the alliance to allow putting the Hodeidah Port under international supervision and it agreed to that. The Houthis rejected doing so and despite that Miliband still blames the alliance! Miliband calls for submitting and handing the port’s control to the Houthis because he failed at convincing the rebels!
Saudi Arabia agreed because it was aware of the responsibility of the human tragedy. It announced donating four cranes to the Hodeidah Port to expedite unloading aid. Meanwhile, Miliband said measures at the port require 90 days!
The most important point is that the world is before a tragedy in Yemen due to its incapability to understand the nature of the fighting. The Houthi movement is not a rebellious movement that wants to defeat its rivals and seize power, like the case is with other conflicts. It is just like al-Qaeda movement.
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It is an extremist armed religious group. Just like the international community believed that confronting ISIS and expelling it from Mosul in Iraq is the solution, it must also comprehend that the same solution applies to the Houthis in Yemen.
The international coalition refused to negotiate with ISIS in ar-Raqqah and pursued it and expelled it from there and from other Syrian cities. It did not seek a peaceful solution with it! The situation in Yemen is similar.
There is actually no peaceful solution with the Houthi movement. Proof to that is that a deal was reached with Saleh’s loyalists because they are an opposition political group but negotiation efforts failed with the Houthi movement because it’s a group that relies on expanding and imposing its religious vision. The Houthis view jihad as a purpose and their slogans are frank in terms of fighting outside Yemen.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.