Yemen’s Houthi rebels said they struck a Saudi oil facility in the port city of Jiddah, the latest in a series of cross-border attacks the group has claimed against the kingdom amid the grinding war in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia’s state-owned media did not immediately acknowledge any incident in Jiddah.
Houthi rebels military tweeted that they fired a new Quds-2 cruise missile at the facility.
He posted a satellite image online that matched Aramco’s North Jiddah Bulk Plant, where oil products are stored in tanks. The rebels claimed they hit the same facility last November, an attack the Saudi-led coalition later admitted had sparked a fire at the plant.
The war in Yemen: Background:
- The conflict has its roots in the Arab Spring of 2011, when an uprising forced the country’s long-time authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to hand over power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.
- The political transition was supposed to bring stability to Yemen, one of the Middle East’s poorest nations, but President Hadi struggled to deal with various problems including militant attacks, corruption, food insecurity, and continuing loyalty of many military officers to Saleh.
- Since 2014, Yemen is facing a multi-sided conflict involving local, regional, and international actors.
- The Houthis, a group of Zaidi Shia Muslims who ruled a kingdom there for nearly 1,000 years.
- They used widespread anger against President Hadi’s decision to postpone long-awaited elections and his stalled negotiations over a new constitution to protest against the government.
- They marched from their stronghold of Saada province to the capital Sanaa and surrounded the presidential palace, placing Hadi under house arrest.
New USA administration looks to solve Yemen multi-polar Civil war:
One of the first key foreign policy decisions that USA President Joe Biden took after assuming office was to end the U.S.’s support for Saudi Arabia’s six-year-long war on Yemen.
He halted weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, appointed a Special Envoy for Yemen, and removed the Shia Houthi rebels, who control the north western parts of the Arab country, from the list of foreign terrorist organisations.
Both former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump looked away from Yemen even as the country, amidst a multipolar civil war and Saudi bombing, descended into chaos and witnessed a humanitarian catastrophe.
Houthi Rebels supported by Shia majority country Iran:
- The Saudi-led coalition feared that continued success of the Houthis would give their rival regional power and Shia-majority state, Iran, a foothold in Yemen, Saudi Arabia’s southern neighbour.
- Saudi Arabia says Iran is backing the Houthis with weapons and logistical support – a charge Iran denies.
- Both sides have since been beset by infighting. The Houthis broke with Saleh and he was killed by Houthi fighters in December 2017.
- On the anti-Houthi side, militias include separatists seeking independence for south Yemen and factions who oppose the idea.
Many more dimensions in Yemen Civil War:
A military coalition led by Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen on March 26, 2015, at Hadi’s request, after the Houthis continued to sweep the south and threatened to conquer the last government stronghold of Aden. Prompting one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises ever.
The crisis in Yemen is not only about the Saudi-Houthi conflict. It has many more dimensions: humanitarian, civil, geopolitical and sectarian.
When Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their allies went to Yemen in March 2015, they had a clearly defined objective: drive the Houthis, who are backed by Iran, out of the capital Sana’a and stabilise the country under the government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi that they support.
Humanitarian situation in Yemen is worsening:
- The Saudi-led coalition imposed a blockade on Yemen, which they hoped would eventually weaken the Houthis, and started a bombing campaign aimed at wrecking the rebels militarily.
- This campaign was a failure as the Houthis entrenched themselves in the north-west despite the military and economic challenges.
- The only success the Saudis can claim from a tactical point of view is that the Houthis were limited to the north-west.
- But the Saudi-backed government failed to consolidate its position even in the south.
- A separatist group, the Southern Transitional Council (STC), has established its rule in southern Yemen. The UAE, which backs the STC, has pulled out of the Saudi-led coalition.
- All this is happening while the humanitarian situation in Yemen is worsening by the day. The war has killed over 10,000 people and pushed the country to the brink of a famine.
- According to the UN, 50,000 Yemenis are starving to death and 16 million will go hungry this year.
- They are depending on food assistance to survive, but the war is making it difficult for aid groups to operate in the country.
- According to WHO, since the Saudi intervention in 2015, at least 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen.
- The widespread damage caused to infrastructure by the coalition airstrikes and lack of supplies of food and medicines due to the blockade has pushed Yemen into a humanitarian catastrophe.
- About 12 million people are at the risk of starvation in Yemen. The country is also facing a massive cholera outbreak. According to UNICEF, a child dies every 10 minutes in Yemen from preventable causes.
- Many more are dying due to preventable diseases as Yemen lacks proper health infrastructure and essential medicines.
Blockade and bombing didn’t solve the Civil war crisis:
- The last six years of war prove that the Saudi strategy of blockade and bombing was a failure.
- The Houthis continued to amass weapons, even technologically advanced drones which they use to attack Saudi targets across the border, despite the blockade, while the Yemeni people continue to suffer.
- The Saudis should ask themselves whether they should continue with a failed strategy while the situation in Yemen keeps worsening.
- Also, the continued Houthi rocket and drone attacks have left a hole in Saudi Arabia’s national security umbrella.
- The Houthis are also under pressure. If they want international legitimacy, they should stop fighting and start talking with other stakeholders.
A ceasefire is in everybody’s interest but the question is who will blink first.
A solution to the conflict can be found only if the rebels and the government make some political concessions.
The new USA administration should use its leverage to pressure Riyadh to lift the blockade, a key Houthi demand, as a confidence-building measure and push for talks for a lasting ceasefire.
Once a ceasefire between the two main rival blocs is achieved, the U.S. and its regional allies could call for a multilateral conference involving all stakeholders to discuss Yemen’s future.
Yemen can find a way out of the current crisis provided the war is brought to an immediate end and the country is given diplomatic assistance.