Houthi forces claim to have shot down a Saudi warplane in the northern Yemeni province of al-Jawf, Al Jazeera has reported. The rebel group’s claim came just a day before the Saudi-led military coalition confirmed it had lost a fighter jet in the region on Saturday.
The official Suadi Press Agency earlier broadcast a statement made by coalition forces, which confirmed that the plane crashed while conducting an operation in support of the Riyadh-backed Yemeni government. A day earlier, Yahya Saria – a spokesperson for Ansar Allah, the official name of the Houthi movement – claimed that an “enemy” Tornado had been shot down by the rebel group in the same province. Reports suggest that advanced surface-to-air missiles may have been used.
The downing of the fighter aircraft is the latest blow to any hopes that negotiations between Ansar Allah representatives and the Saudi government, hosted in Oman towards the end of last year, may have signalled that the conflict was in its denouement. The five-year war has claimed over 100,000 lives and sparked what the UN has described as the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis”. The apparent rapprochement between coalition forces and separatist groups at both ends of the country last November began with the signing of the Riyadh agreement between the Southern Transitional Council (STC) and the Yemeni government. However, negotiations with the Houthis later that month proved fruitless. The downing of the Saudi fighter jet this week is just the latest in a string of flare-ups in recent months, which began with an attack on a government military parade in the town of al-Dhalea in December. A month later, 111 people were killed in an attack on a military base in Marib.
This latest episode merely confirms that the prospects for what seems like a never-ending war remain bleak. In light of the escalation of tensions in the region pursuant to the US government’s extra-judicial murder of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, it is not in the interests of Saudi Arabia or their coalition partners to show any sign of weakness. Consequently, the only side which holds the power to negotiate a lasting peace will have little incentive to do so. On the other side, what support the Houthis do receive from the Iranian government – the level of which is often exaggerated by the media as a cheap anti-Iranian propaganda ploy – is not likely to dry up either.