Yemen: From Blockade to War?

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

On the background of the protracted blockade of Yemen a new strike from the Saudi side has taken place. The Arabian coalition with Riyad at the helm attacked the Houthi’s in the western part of the country. More than fifty militia members have been killed by an airstrike.

The conflict in short

Saudi Arabia and its allies traditionally see Yemen as within its sphere of influence, in relation to which it has a direct influence on the official Yemeni government (the country is a strategic point, important for sea communications through the Red Sea as well as along the south of the Arabian coastline). 

Yemen’s subordinate position does not amuse the Houthi’s, who comprise up to half of the country’s population. A direct confrontation with the coalition has been taking place from 2014, and Yemen has been fully blockaded since 2017.

It is also very important that the Houthi’s don’t accept the current borders. Earlier, the Saudis took a part of the nation’s territories and forced the former Yemeni leadership to accept the deal.

In the last year the Houthi’s have twice tried to mount a missile attack on Riyad in order to remove the blockade, although the Saudis have managed to down the missiles in the air with the help of anti-missile weaponry.

The Houthi’s have good relations with Iran and ‘Hezbollah’, because of which they are constantly accused by their opponents of receiving funding from third parties. In this context everything the Houthi’s do is automatically considered to be Teheran’s fault. These accusations are supported by disinformation campaigns in neighbouring countries with a Shiite population: Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Bahrein.

Alongside open warfare, Yemen is being torn apart by internal contradictions, among which is the confrontation between Hadi on the one hand and Saleh’s clan on the other, as well as the conflict between the northern and southern parts of the country.  

It is important to take other Yemeni actors into account, including the ‘Muslim brothers’ and the ‘Al-Islah’ party, who, until recently, both took the Saudi side. Considering the new alignment of players, the situation might change for the groups.

The current situation

The Saudis continue their blockade on land and sea. The lack of access for humanitarian convoys carrying medicine and food has led to a strong epidemic of cholera and starvation.

It is important that both the harbours and internal transport networks are blocked. Alongside hunger, agriculture itself has ceased to function in the country.

In addition, as the UN has acknowledged, around 16 million citizens do not have access to drinking water and the amount of cholera infections has risen to over 900 thousand.

The goal of the blockade

The Saudis think that they can break the Houthi resistance and place the responsibility for the catastrophic situation in the country on them.

Regardless, the Houthi’s aren’t giving in and the capital city of Sana is under their control as it was before.

One of the forms anti-Houthi propaganda took was blaming the group for the murder of Yemen’s ex-president, Abdalla Saleh, who had lately had extraordinarily difficult relations with the rebels. However, as we have written earlier, it is unlikely that this would have been useful for either the Houthi’s or Iran; if they wanted to deal with Saleh, they would rather have imprisoned him after publicly accusing him of dealings with the Saudis. However, Saudi media has presented this as a Houthi action.

The Saudis are losing their cover

Earlier, Riyad could undertake any aggressive action it wanted as long as the US agreed. Other countries were just afraid to ruin their relations with the most powerful Middle Eastern country, both in a political and economic sense (we will not forget that the Saudi’s have bought weaponry from the West). 

Now, however, taking the Trump factor and the clear loss of American influence in the Middle East into consideration, the Saudis are acting on their own in many respects. Now their Western partners have no reason to close their eyes to current events and the headers of the Anglo-Saxon media eloquently speak of open condemnation of the blockade and the war. The UN has involved itself and has warned the Saudis, that if the situation does not end, a large part of the population will die from hunger before spring. Cultural figures, scientists, soldiers, and diplomats have also gotten involved and written an open letter to the leaders of the US, Great Britain, and France, asking them to pressure Saudi Arabia and use the UN Security Council to start peace negotiations. 

Earlier the US could control ISIS (a terrorist organisation banned in Russia) and defuse local conflicts with the help of the Saudis. Now even the December calls by the American president and the Pentagon to remove the blockade did not have the required effect. The Saudis are acting on their own (as far as that is possible) and are looking for alternative allies. 

In the long run the US is interested in influencing the Saudis; however, judging by current events, this will probably continue only after Donald Trump.

Possible political changes

At the current situation the war will lead to irreversible consequences and Yemen is at risk of becoming a failed state. There remains the hope that the condemnation of Riyad’s actions on the international level and unofficial negotiations for a compromise will lead to the gradual ending of military activity and the ending of the blockade.  

As has written before, there have been negotiations between the Yemeni government, ‘Ansaralli’s’ (Houthi’s), and the Saudis about conditions for a truce, such as immunity for Saleh and his entourage, the participation of Saleh’s son, general Ahmed Ali Saleh, in the presidential elections, and the firing of Yemen’s current president, Mansur Hadi.   

The fact alone that Saleh was killed speaks measure about someone being interested in breaking up the procedures. It could hardly have been the Houthi’s, who are in the ring of enemies themselves.

It is certain that there will be changes in the country’s balance of power: especially for the party that manages to get the ‘Muslim brothers’ and ‘Al-Islah’ on side.


Taking into account the fact that the local residents, who are trapped from all sides and forced to become ‘internal migrants’ in their own country, are ill and hungry, and that the Western media has begun to openly write about it, we can except that the Saudi adventure will be broken up before a catastrophic situation can occur. But even if the blockade is removed, periodic provocations and airstrikes from Riyad and the corresponding Houthi reaction can keep taking place for an undetermined amount of time. 

It is also credible, that after the blockade is lifted the local residents will be forced to flee to safer shores. We know, of course, where to. The refugees’ long road lies through Eritrea, Libya, and Ethiopia to Europe.