Although it is a crunch time for all warring factions in Yemen, they failed to reach a humanitarian truce in Geneva. The five days talks brokered by United Nations special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed led to nowhere. While the government has insisted that the Houthi rebels withdraw from territories seized, the Houthis — who have been hit hard by the airstrike — refused to discuss their withdrawal before the airstrikes come to an end.
It seems that the country will be torn apart for a while. No amount of mediation is expected to pay off unless the warring parties feel that the stalemate is mutually hurting. For third party intervention to work, the moment for mediation should be ripe. Thus far, it appears that the Iranian-backed Houthis and forces loyal to the deposed President Ali Abdullah Saleh have not reached the breaking point yet and that the continuation of the conflict is still a viable option.
For the last three months, the Saudi-led coalition of Arab states has been targeting the Houthis and their allies in Yemen. It is not as if the airstrike is not hurting. In fact, were it not for the airstrikes, the Houthis and their allies would have assumed full control of Yemen. That said, it airstrikes alone may not convince the Houthis and Saleh to agree to any cease-fire that could deprive them of their gains.
I suspect that the Houthi delegation, which participated in the Geneva talks, has acted in bad faith. Therefore, the failure of reaching a two-week humanitarian cease-fire during Ramadan should surprise those who understand how the Houthis and their allies in Yemen and in Tehran think. Therefore, short of defeating the Houthis on the ground, it is less likely that the Houthis will come to term with reality.
Seen in this way, many observers believe that Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is too optimist when he vowed to “redouble efforts” to mediate a cease-fire between the two sides. His insistence that a cease-fire is within reach is, to say the least, premature. I argue that the price tag placed on the Houthis’ defiance is still not high enough to force them to change course.
Let me cut to the chase and say that the main problem is Iran. Its support for Houthis makes the latter feel empowered to continue this war. Iran’s calculations are straightforward: Turn Yemen into a war of attrition to its regional rivals. Needless to mention, Iran is totally indifferent to Yemeni casualties particularly civilians. For them, as long as the Houthis and their allies can hold on in facing the airstrikes, there will be no need to stop fighting.
Sadly, the international community is complicit with what has been taking place in Yemen for a long time. The belated intervention of the UN special envoy is, though a step in the right direction, a day late and a dollar short. While there is a UNSC resolution, adopted under Chapter Seven, it does not seem that the UN has the will to put an end to this tiring and bloody conflict. In other words, the Houthis are defying the international community while the latter has failed to step in and change the situation on the ground. The point is that the continuous failure of the UN to act in a decisive way sets a precedent with grave consequences in our region.
Explicit in the Houthis’ performance at Geneva is that this faction understands nothing but the language of force. As long as they believe that they can defy all calls to restore stability in the country without paying a price, they will most likely to continue this devastative war. If anything, this is what others should understand and upgrade their strategies to defeat the Houthis in an unequivocal manner.