The Arab coalition’s operation against the Houthis in Yemen has been heavily bombarding Hudaydah for days. Hudaydah is a Yemeni port city on the Red Sea that is of great strategic significance. Through it, the Houthis have established a support line to give supplies to their base in the capital Sana’a. A week ago, the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates began a major offensive to assist the internationally recognized Yemeni Government to retake control of the city.
On Monday, the coalition stated that it has killed around six hundred Houthi fighters and destroyed more than two hundred targets since the operation began. The UAE, the biggest contributor to the coalition behind Saudi Arabia, estimates that there are around three thousand Houthi fighters in Hudaydah, and the battle is over the airport where coalition forces have said that they were based on the western side of the airport while the Houthis are in the north.
On Tuesday, the Yemeni Army claimed that they had taken full control of the airport thus cutting the main supply line from the Houthis, a major advance in its attempt to retake full control over Hudaydah. However, this remains to be seen.
The latest offensive has alarmed the United Nations because Hudaydah accounts for around eighty percent of Yemen’s humanitarian supplies serving as a lifeline for relief from a threatened famine. In addition, the United Nations has warned that the famine crisis in Yemen could be one of the worst the world has ever seen threatening more than eight million Yemenis.
Earlier this month, the Red Cross evacuated workers from Hudaydah amid rising security concerns. Meanwhile, UN officials have held administrative talks with the Houthis over the city’s port to maintain the flow of assistance. When the war in Yemen broke out in 2015, the Houthis managed to exile the internationally recognized government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi to Riyadh. However, last week, Hadi and many members of his government returned to Aden for the first time in one year with permission from the coalition. Hadi’s return to Aden signals optimism on the ground but does not guarantee an end to the conflict while the humanitarian crisis continues.
Hudaydah has a population of around four-hundred thousand people. The problem for the coalition in launching this campaign on Hudaydah is that the civilians who live in the city have no means of evacuating. For example, gas prices increased, there was no genuine effort to protect civilians who are in harm’s way, there was not enough food and medicine reaching Yemenis who are located in the populous areas of Northern Yemen and this was a worst-case scenario for the humanitarian community.
Another problem, probably the most important problem with this offensive by the Arab coalition is that from a military prospective, there is a winner or loser, but on the other hand, the coalition might be waging an operation that could at a minimum take two months which could cause devastation to an already devastated Yemen. It also means that food and medicine can’t get to people, civilians could get hit by airstrikes, and we won’t have peace. This signals that so far ongoing negotiations have failed and there is either the military solution or no solution at all.
The challenge to all of this is to note that all sides including the Arab coalition, the Houthis, and the Yemeni Government are not backing down, but choosing themselves over the civilians, and that is the most devastating factor of them all.
There is no military solution in Yemen, but we have to look for a political solution. However, there could be a way for a political solution if all the parties to the conflict were willing to negotiate. So far, there have been negotiations between the EU four (France, United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy) with Iran which have made some progress to resolve the Yemeni crisis through a political solution. Europe has shown that it has a good will with Iran to promote peace talks, but there is a lot of doubt within the Arab coalition to move forward with a serious peace negotiation to manage the crisis in Yemen through a political procedure.
The most unreported war is destroying Yemen, and since the start of the war in 2015 around twenty-seven thousand people have been killed, a majority of those casualties being civilians. In addition, the Arab coalition, backed by the United States and European powers, have carried out seventeen thousand airstrikes with a third of them hitting non-military targets. Also, a Saudi-led blockade on imports has led to extreme shortages of food, water, and medical supplies.
On top of all of this, around half of Yemen’s medical facilities have been destroyed, eight million people are on the brink of starvation, two million children are facing malnutrition, and a cholera outbreak has plagued the whole country. According to the United Nations, Yemen remains the world’s worst man-made humanitarian crisis because of three years of constant war including bombing campaigns against schools, hospitals, roads, and markets. As a result, these events have been the conclusions from human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
The situation in Hudaydah is building upon an already dire humanitarian crisis. There are two dimensions to this. One is the fact that civilians in the city are facing the threat of constant artillery fire, aerial bombardments, and fighting in places where they reside with no ability to access basics like food, water, and medical services. The other dimension is the disruption of the movement of supplies through the port. The concerns from humanitarian organizations is that if the port becomes a fighting ground, then this would have a greater impact on an already suffering civilian population in Yemen.
A huge portion of Yemen is ‘Houthi-free’, but this does not mean that everything is good because there is still a lack of stability, the government has not been able to go back to Yemen to manage the situation, and the mismanagement of finances is difficult to handle in a war zone. The problem now is that both sides are looking for total victory and the Arab coalition has invested a lot of money into this war to look like victors.
A realistic scenario could be for the United Nations to come up with a settlement for both sides to accept where the Houthis would surrender the port to the Arab coalition and the Yemeni Government in exchange for an end to the war where there could be room for negotiations on a political solution. Could this happen, who knows, but there is still a long way to go.
Out of all the conflicts in the Middle East, Yemen is an area that could be manageable if there was a political will from both sides to come to the negotiating table. First, we need to stop the fighting and stop using military force to advance political agendas. Second, there needs to be an agreed ceasefire led by the United Nations that can allow for humanitarian assistance to reach Yemenis who are displaced, and lack access to basic facilities that supply food, water, shelter, and medicine. Third would be an immediate regional dialogue to engage with the Yemenis on the seriousness for a political solution which could be based on a power-sharing system, a free election with UN supervision, and for Yemenis to adopt a constitution that makes room for a new president and a new political system.
The United States has a lot of leverage to end the crisis, but they are not using it. However, there are statements coming out from Congress who want the U.S to stop its involvement in Yemen and start taking humanitarian steps to help people who are in need of basic supplies. Victory is not an option to resolving the crisis in Yemen, but the problem for the past three years has been the cost of one side totally winning the war, and that cost has been human lives. Even if one side did win the war, Yemen will have to deal with a hefty process of making itself a country again.