Hodeidah operation could bring Yemen conflict to an end
Some casual observers of the war in Yemen have been referring to the conflict in that country as the “forgotten war.” However, even a cursory glance at the “International” or “World” sections of many major Western newspapers suggests that the latest developments in the conflict, especially the recently launched military operation to liberate the port city of Hodeidah from the Iranian-supported Houthi militias, has garnered significant attention.
For some, Hodeidah has somehow become synonymous with impending doom. They have argued — unconvincingly — that it could prolong the conflict and inflict further suffering on civilians. The reality, however, is that the military operation — codenamed “Golden Victory” — could in fact hasten the end of this violent conflict and improve the humanitarian situation in Hodeidah and throughout the rest of the country.
The Houthi have held the port for a long time. They have used it to supply their troops with smuggled weapons and missile parts to launch against various targets, including civilians, in Saudi Arabia. On Tuesday, officials with the Arab coalition supporting the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in its effort to reclaim territories occupied by force by the Houthis held a press conference on a military base in the UAE. They put on display weapons that were captured from the battlefield in Hodeidah, including drones, a sniper rifle, “roadside bombs disguised as rocks” and a “drone boat.”
The Houthis have continued to fire ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia, the latest of which was intercepted over the southern city of Khamis Mushayt on Wednesday. I personally heard and saw an intercepted missile over Riyadh this past April. The threat posed by these Iranian-supplied missile parts and technology is very real.
In addition, and perhaps just as importantly, the Houthis have used Hodeidah to finance their military campaigns across the country by taxing and commandeering commercial goods and humanitarian aid, and selling a large percentage on the black market. According to credible sources, control of the port has allowed them to generate as much as $30 million every month. To a great extent, their control of the port has enabled them to use both weapons and medicine as weapons of war.
Hodeidah could potentially force the Houthis to come to terms with the fact that much of Yemeni society is united against them and that they have very little support domestically.
Contrary to doomsday scenarios, the military campaign could potentially hold the key to ending this conflict, which has cost Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other members of the Arab coalition dearly in both blood and treasure. Far from being an operation that could exacerbate the humanitarian situation and prolong the conflict, Hodeidah could potentially force the Houthis to come to terms with the fact that much of Yemeni society is united against them and that they have very little support domestically. With the exception of the Iranian regime, they also have scant support internationally. The Yemeni government and the coalition, on the other hand, do have the support of the international community, as exemplified by UN Security Council Resolution 2216, which passed without any votes against.
As for the potential to exacerbate humanitarian suffering, that is also unlikely. As already mentioned, the Houthis have used both food and medicine to advance their political aims. It is no wonder that the areas hardest hit by near famine-like conditions are under their control. That should be contrasted with the Saudi-led Arab coalition, which has put forward the Yemen Comprehensive Humanitarian Operations. This plan has meant that supplies of food and medicine are now coming in by sea, land and even air from multiple entry points. The plan has also begun implementing programs that seek to put Yemen back on the road to recovery, while Saudi Arabia and the UAE have provided the UN close to $1 billion to meet its aid plan for Yemen. UAE officials have also confirmed that humanitarian aid is continuing to arrive at Hodeidah.
The coalition has said it has adopted a “gradual” approach to retaking the port and the rest of the city. Anwar Gargash, the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, held a press conference in Dubai earlier this week where he made it clear the coalition was taking every precaution necessary to minimize or avoid collateral damage. He also stressed that one of the objectives of the operation is to compel the Houthis to come to terms with reality.
“From our perspective, three years of war is enough. It is time for a political process and the Houthis don’t want to start it, but we will force them to start a political process. At the end of the day, Yemen needs a political process supported by the US,” he said. It is hard to disagree with his sentiment.
• Fahad Nazer is a political consultant to the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington and an International Fellow at the National Council on US-Arab Relations. He does not represent or speak on behalf of either organization.