Ever since the war in Yemen erupted three years ago, it has been subject to several variables on the level of military or political work or on the level of international positions. The most important and influential variable was late President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s announcement in December last year of his split with his ally, the Houthis, and his decision to join legitimacy after armed clashes and disputes between the two parties. This practically pushed the Houthis to square one as a rogue minority and as a lone party supported by Iran.
Battle for Hodeidah
Saleh’s last position proved more influential than his assassination by the Houthis - it was like he who reveals his will before he dies. He settled his position and those of his followers who represent a majority competing for legitimacy. Saleh’s assassination incensed his followers, made them feel insulted and encouraged them to follow the roadmap drawn by their leader and inspirer.
Everyone now feels that finalizing the military situation in Yemen has neared with the advance of the Yemeni national forces under the umbrella of the coalition in support of legitimacy in Hodeidah. The battle in Hodeidah is the largest and most important battle since the beginning of the liberation considering the importance of its port’s location overlooking the Red Sea.
Hodeidah’s port controls navigation and Bab al-Mandab Strait to a large extent. It is also a valuable resource for the Houthis as they use it to collect taxes on goods and receive Tehran’s supplies of missiles, weapons, fuel and money. Hodeidah also turned into an international flashpoint since it is the main port for delivering humanitarian aid. The controversy surrounding it makes it harder to resolve the issue. The UN refused several times to supervise the port to ensure that humanitarian aid is delivered to those who deserve it and to make sure that the ships and tankers are free of weapons. Due to this negative position, coalition forces had to resolve the Hodeidah issue before Sanaa and Saada with the arrival of the national army forces to it. Truth is Hodeidah’s liberation is crucial for cutting off Iran’s head in Yemen. As for Saada and Sanaa, they will be the Houthis’ last choice for wars of attrition and street wars.
Two options for the Houthis
The Houthis have two options. The first one is to put their weapons aside as per UN Security Council Resolution 2216, the outcome of the national dialogue and the Gulf initiative; thus ending the war and joining the political process immediately. The second option, which is more probable, is for the Houthis to continue fighting till the last minute. In this latter case, Iran will continue to direct them to use civilians as human shields and manage their fight within the residential districts in Sanaa. This is the common Iranian tactic. This is in addition to the international community’s attempts in cooperation with the corrupt and complicit Arab media, like the Qatari media and others, to picture battles of Hodeidah, Sanaa and Saada as humanitarian violations. However, if the Hodeidah Port is liberated and the pipe of Iranian support is closed, Ansar Allah militia will weaken and in this case it will lose the war.
In both scenarios, Iran will not stop directing the Houthis with a remote control. If it decides that the Houthis are to hand over their weapons, it will set conditions and create obstacles to delay a political solution as Houthis are a minority that does not constitute more than 5% of the Yemen population. If the Houthis are defeated and hand over their weapons, Iran will stick to three tools of the solution, the outcome of the national dialogue, the Gulf initiative and the Security Council resolution, and which presented many structural and political privileges to Saada.
The Griffiths plan
The question is will the Houthis participate in ruling Yemen?
All sides — the Yemenis, the Gulf and the international community — agree that all components of the Yemeni society should be partners in ruling Yemen without exception, through a transitional phase during which a constitution is drafted and fair elections are planned. Even the Muslim Brotherhood with their pragmatic nature have stood silent during the war, watching how the battles are going and waiting for the end to join the political process.
UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths’s plan includes three known tools for a solution and which include forming a transitional government with an agreed leadership and balanced ministerial representation for each political or religious party. Perhaps the most important element of Griffiths’s plan is forming a national military council representing all parties, to supervise the execution of the planned process of which the most important part is handing weapons over. Actually, the solutions have been the same since the beginning of the war. However, circumstances have changed because the impact and role of the UN envoy in the negotiation process mainly depend on what happens in the battlefield. The more there is balance and rapprochement between the fighting forces, the lower the negotiating will and the more difficult the international role are considering that each party does not want to hand over its weapons. But now, since the situation is in favor of the Yemeni national army and the prospects of the Houthis are diminishing as their presence is limited to the north, there is a better chance for a peaceful solution.
Although reaching the end is not easy, it will be the first defeat for Iran in the areas of its intrusion.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Amal Abdulaziz Al–Hazani is a professor at King Saudi University and a writer for al-Sharq al-Awsat. She tweets @Alhazzani_Amal.