Yemen: three conflicts and three scenarios

AP Photo/Hani Mohammed
AP Photo/Hani Mohammed

In mid-September, the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates resumed its offensive against Yemen's main port city of Hodeidah, through which basic commodities enter the country, and the UN fear there could be a humanitarian catastrophe. Yesterday, the Yemeni military announced that fierce fighting between Yemen's government forces and the Houthi rebels erupted in Hodeidah, killing at least 27 people.

The senior research fellow at the European Research Centre of the International Relations Institute, expert of the Russian International Affairs Council Nikolai Surkov is inclined to believe that the Saudis are interested in the gradual attenuation of this conflict. "They have other problems now, in particular internal ones, and they are not ready to spend money and resources on Yemen, throwing new army units there. Sooner or later, the parties will try to reach an agreement and that's a solution which everybody needs."

As for Hodeidah, the expert sees three possible scenarios:

"The first scenario, which is quite possible. As for now, all attempts to take Hodeidah have failed, and it may well happen that the UAE military will be near Hodeidah for another half a year, and then we will observe a positional war without any major changes. It would mean a gradual aggravation of the humanitarian crisis, but without any breakthroughs. This is the first option, which is quite possible.

The second scenario, which I think is more or less optimistic, is the capture of Hodeidah. Yes, it will lead to a humanitarian collapse, but on the other hand, there is some hope that the capture of Hodeidah may cause the start of real negotiations. Some kind of collapse in the rear of Houthi rebels is also possible. Then there is a chance that they will make serious concessions, and we can expect some kind of contractual solution. But of course, it will happen against the backdrop of a humanitarian catastrophe and will be very difficult for Yemen, because the external players are trying to split it.

The third scenario is the capture of Hodeidah and further war, when the Houthi rebels and allies will fight till the last breath. With this development, one can expect a lot of scary things. That is, in addition to the humanitarian collapse and the death of hundreds of thousands of people, if not of millions, one can also expect a real strengthening of Iran's role, because the Houthi rebels will have nowhere to go. One can expect a tanker war, terror in the territory of Saudi Arabia. That is, this is the apocalypse scenario on a regional Arabian scale."

Surkov also suggests to consider the fact that there are three conflicts in Yemen, not just one: "First - an internal conflict between various political forces of Yemen. Second - the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. The third conflict that imposes its imprint or serves as ideological, is a standoff between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Completion of one of these conflicts does not mean the end of the other two. Therefore, for the time being, we have a crisis, the settlement of which is not possible for at least ten years."

Meanwhile, senior researcher at the Arab and Islamic Studies Center at the Institute for Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Sergei Serebrov believes that the overall situation in the conflict zone is developing according to the scenario of hybrid wars, where many regional and global interests intersect, because Yemen occupies a geopolitically important location on the world map.

“With regard to the presence of Iranian specialists and advisers in the alliance, it’s hard to argue, although there is no direct evidence of it. But how then to comment on the presence of American and British soldiers in the headquarters of the coalition who manage aircraft, including those bombing school buses? A school bus was attacked in Sa'dah in August, 40 children died. If the presence of some military specialists allows us to characterize Houthi rebels as Iran's agents, then whose agent is Saudi Arabia?" Sergey Serebrov asks.

He considers "dragging" the Yemen conflict into the paradigm of the Saudi-Iranian contradictions is extremely dangerous: “There are contradictions in Yemen, but they are not religious, not ideological. The myths about this conflict are constantly being invented. Last month, there was a presentation in the U.S. Congress addressing Yemen, which presented information as fact that on September 21, 2014, the Houthi rebels seized Sana'a and expelled President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, thereby staging a coup d'etat. This is absolutely not true, it's another prevailing media myth. It is well known what happened on September 21, 2014. Houthi rebels peacefully entered Sana'a and signed an agreement on peace and partnership, it was signed by President Hadi and all the parties participated in the national dialogue, including the moderate Islah party. Its radical wing hastily left Sana'a and moved to Saudi Arabia to prepare for the intervention. Hadi remained in office as president. Relying on the support of the Houthi rebels and former President Saleh, in the period from September to December 2014, Hadi was able to do what Americans failed to do in Yemen. They cleared the entire north of Al-Qaeda in 4 months. For some reason nobody remembers this either. The myths that are put in place of the facts to drag it into the paradigm of the Saudi-Iranian contradictions have reached the level of the Congress and publications in serious sources. This is a dangerous turn in the development of the Yemeni conflict, which fuels the war."

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