In a move that admits the futility of the fighting in Yemen, Saudi Arabia is reportedly considering a new ceasefire with the Houthi movement. This comes after an ‘unverified’ video showed a major success for the Houthis in the aftermath of a battle on the border between the nations.
According to the video (whose claims various media outlets have not been able to verify), the Houthis launched on 25 September an offensive attack that lasted for three days. The complex tactics employed at the Saudi border apparently led to 500 Saudi causalities, thousands of troops surrendering, and the capture of many armoured vehicles and other weaponry supplies. Perhaps for reasons of embarrassment, Saudi officials have yet to acknowledge this event, notably still recovering from the earlier 14 September drone attacks on two oil facilities, also conducted by the Houthis. In any case, this underscores the weakening coalition effort by Saudi Arabia and its allies to quell their troubles with Houthi-controlled Yemen. Recently, the United Arab Emirates, which once had a larger presence in the conflict, has become more anxious about the Houthis’ strength after it was revealed that its cities, such as Abu Dhabi, could be targeted. However, the Houthis have previously said that they would not target Saudi Arabia again in this way. This perhaps has convinced some Saudi government officials to openly view another ceasefire more enthusiastically, in the spectre of further regional confrontations.
What a ceasefire would achieve however is unknown, given that past efforts have not resulted in lasting solutions to the conflict. Since getting involved in 2015, when the Yemeni Civil War began, Saudi Arabia has tried a few ceasefires, but none have succeeded. Considering that there are also other factions involved in this conflict, invoking a ceasefire will never be easy, as each party must agree to tolerate each other in the future. Now that the Houthis are arguably more powerful and legitimate actors, perhaps due to Iran’s support, strategically, it seems that it would be right for the neighbouring countries to soon move towards dialogue. Whether this happens depends much on their willingness to let Yemen’s future be decided by those who live there. This, of course, is partly what the civil war is being fought over, and ignoring this will not likely lead to better outcomes than what Yemen faces presently.
While this development offers much to be pessimistic about, as it is by no means concrete or indicative of the past situation in Yemen, it is definitely a clear reality check that reminds us of the need for a ceasefire. Saudi Arabia, which has spent much and gained little, all against an inferior force, must finally realize that to quell the fighting there can be no good military solution on its part. The Houthis, who by no means are better themselves, seem to acknowledge this and are subsequently showing reasonable restraint, given their present successes. Certainly, movement towards a negotiating table would be welcomed by many, given that the domestic conditions in Yemen are growing direr the longer the fighting continues. So, while it is sad that it has taken over four years, particularly for the Saudi coalition, to realize that the conflict and conditions are only going to get worse so long as the fighting continues, a ceasefire could finally alleviate Yemen’s suffering and start something better for the region. The present alternative, which sees economic and social forces further punish the Arabian Peninsula for continuing this madness, hardly seems worthwhile in comparison.
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