Yemen peace process limps along

IssueJune - July 2024
News by PN staff

Yemen continues to be one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, on the edge of famine, with something close to a frozen war and a feeble peace process which is not getting much international support – but which has just produced a helpful prisoner release.

Britain could be ending arms sales to both Saudi Arabia and Israel for their war crimes. Those would be the most useful ways of supporting the peace process in Yemen and pressing for an end to Israel’s war in Gaza, which is escalating conflict in and around the region.

Keir Starmer, Labour leader, said on Twitter in February 2020 that arms sales to Saudi Arabia should be halted because of their role in ‘creating the horrifying humanitarian suffering in Yemen’.

This January, though, he withdrew from that position, telling the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg TV show: ‘We will review the situation and the review will give us the answers to those questions.’

When Yemen does get mainstream media attention, it’s because of attacks by Houthi rebels (who control two-thirds of Yemen’s population) on what they claim is Israel-linked shipping in the Red Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean. The Houthis, whose actual name is ‘Ansar Allah’ (‘Supporters of God’), say that the attacks will end when the people of Gaza receive the food and medicine they need.

The UK has not launched any airstrikes on Houthi bases since February, while the US also seems to have reduced its attacks on Houthi land targets almost to zero.

The British and US governments seem to have realised, as Michael Horton, the co-founder of Red Sea Analytics International, pointed out in late January, airstrikes can reduce the ability of Ansar Allah to launch anti-ship missiles, but they can do almost nothing to stop the group’s use of one-way attack drones or marine mines to target ships (see PN 2670).

Peace process

The Norwegian Refugee Council said at the end of March: ‘It’s been almost two years since a six-month truce was announced between parties to the conflict in Yemen – an unprecedented opportunity for peace. While the UN-brokered truce was not renewed, there has been a fragile continuation of truce-like conditions. As a result, levels of violence have dropped and there is more room for political negotiations.’

Ansar Allah is in a peace process with Saudi Arabia, which has to an extent sidelined its local clients, the ‘internationally-recognised government’ (IRG) of Yemen.

On 26 May, Ansar Allah released 113 IRG detainees in what the Houthis described as a ‘unilateral humanitarian initiative’.

This is almost certainly part of an agreed series of confidence-building steps leading towards some kind of peace deal between Ansar Allah and the IRG.

One problem is that the IRG is deeply divided between the groups favoured by Saudi Arabia and the much stronger Southern Transitional Council (STC), which wants southern Yemen to break away and once again become a separate country, South Yemen (which existed from 1967 to 1990).

Recent Houthi attacks seem to have been focused on STC forces.