The United Arab Emirates has decided to start pulling out troops from the devastating war in Yemen, but has denied full withdrawal from the conflict. In doing so, the U.A.E. has now left the fight against Houthi rebels up to Saudi Arabian forces backed by the United States. However, the U.A.E. has been adamant that this decision was reached with support from Saudi Arabia, and they are willing to send in troops if tensions in Yemen escalate. This decision means Saudi Arabia is unable to leave Yemen anytime soon, as they are basically fighting this conflict alone. Any de-escalation on Riyadh’s side may mean a set-back in Saudi Arabia’s goals to eliminate Houthi rebels in Yemen and reimplement the Hadi government. With this, Saudi airstrikes may increase in order to account for the newfound loss of help, thus decimating more Yemeni homes and civilian lives.
While this pullback may seem like a step in the right direction, the U.A.E. still ensures their full backing of Saudi Arabia, as Colonel Turki al-Maliki states: “The United Arab Emirates… and the coalition countries continue to achieve their operational and strategic goals and reach the final status of restoring the legitimate Yemeni government.” The official also ensures this pull-back is not in response to rising tensions with Iran. “Many people asked if this is also linked to the current rise of tensions with Iran. I would say fundamentally no… But of course we cannot be blind to the overall strategic picture. It is very much to do with moving to from what I would call a military-first strategy to a peace-first strategy,” said al-Maliki.
On the other hand, Elana DeLozier, a research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said in an article for The Independent that the decision is “almost certainly causing tension with Riyadh. [Saudi Arabia ] must now rethink its own approach to the war. Previously, the Emiratis swallowed their war fatigue and stayed the course in order to maintain a united front with the Saudis.”
There also may be reproach from the United States towards the U.A.E. as a result of war crimes incurred on Yemeni civilians. “Human rights abuses, torture camps, war crimes and support of al-Qaeda-esque groups in Yemen severely damaged the U.A.E.’s standing in the U.S.,” said Andreas Krieg, a professor at King’s College, according to Al-Jazeera.
The only way for this pull-back to be effective is if the United States follows in the footsteps of the U.A.E. and begins decreasing support for Saudi Arabia. While the House of Representatives has been presenting resolutions against support for the war, little has been accomplished; As reported by the New York Times, President Trump has vetoed a bipartisan resolution to reduce America’s involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war with Yemen. Regardless, the U.A.E.’s move from an overbearing military presence to a hands-off ally may show Mohammed bin Salman and Trump that this conflict has been carried on for far too long.
The Yemeni war has been ongoing since 2014 as a result of a failed government transition. As Yemenis became discontent with their living conditions, the rebel Houthi faction emerged against the new government under President Hadi. In 2014, Houthi rebels took over the capital of Sana’a and then tried to take over the entirety of Yemen. President Hadi fled Yemen to Saudi Arabia, which then began Saudi’s involvement in the conflict after fear that Iran may view Yemen’s vulnerability as a strong foothold. Along with a slew of allies, Saudi Arabia began a bombing campaign on Yemen which increased tensions with rebels. The power vacuum in Yemen has allowed for Al-Qaeda militants and affiliates of ISIL to take over parts of the South. Over 10,000 people have been killed and over 3 million people have been displaced since 2014. Additionally, over 17 million people will face famine without humanitarian aid, according to Al Jazeera. This is due to restrictions on fuel and food imports, seizing of vital ports, destruction of infrastructure, and humanitarian aid not reaching enough civilians.
While advocates of United States’ withdraw of support for Saudi Arabia see the U.A.E.’s pulling-back as a positive, there is little hope that the United States will do anything to resolve this conflict, as it might strain relations with Mohammed bin Salman. However, the U.A.E. may have the power in starting peace negotiations and demonstrating that excessive military force is not the solution. Saudi Arabia should be worried that the more this conflict drags on, the less support they will receive from neighbouring countries against Houthi rebels. We must remain optimistic and hope that the U.A.E. keeps their strategy of engaging in peace negotiations rather than remaining at the feet of Saudi Arabia.
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