Earlier this week Saudi Arabia proposed a ceasefire agreement with its rivals in Yemen Ansarallah (Houthis), which has failed to deliver results. So why has this attempt to end the 6 year long war failed and what does it say about the US Biden administration’s approach to the conflict?
After the Saudi-backed forces of Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi had endured successive defeats to their rival Ansarallah, over the Marib area in Yemen’s north, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has called for a ceasefire. This call came as their opposition seized the last Saudi-backed forces stronghold in the north of the country and lost the oil resources under its control.
The ceasefire proposal was almost instantly rejected by the Ansrallah government, based in Sanaa, as they claim it is an old proposal and has already been reviewed. The proposal entails ending the blockade of Hodeidah port and allowing for the opening of Sanaa Airport, which would ease the humanitarian crisis in the country. But the proposal is an attempt to play hardball and force Ansarallah to concede, by allowing their opposition to supervise Hodeidah port and Sanaa airport.
As it is Ansarallah which are winning the battle for Marib, they feel this proposal is simply a show used by the Saudi’s to feign an attempt for peace and demand instead that Saudi Arabia lift their blockade without any pre-conditions, other than an end of hostilities. Saudi Arabia have fired back however with their own allegations, claiming that Ansarallah are using the humanitarian crisis in the country as leverage over the Kingdom.
For the Sanaa based government however, Marib, which they are currently fighting to take control of, is more than just a symbolic win over their enemy. Seizing control of Marib would not only give them a bargaining chip at the negotiation table, when it comes time, but also possibly grant them the ability to supply their people with the oil which is now hard to come by as a result of the Saudi blockade. Taking Marib means slightly breaking the siege of the country from the North and giving a life-line to the people of Yemen. Unfortunately for Ansarallah, it’s not so simple to sell Marib’s resources and so they will miss out on any potential for large monetary gain.
A Biden Administration Not Willing To Push For Peace
US President Joe Biden’s first ever speech on foreign policy made it clear that his administration intended to make ending the war in Yemen a top priority, but despite this, the war has only gotten worse.
Perhaps the biggest breakthroughs so far have been the decision by the United States to take Ansarallah off the designated terrorist group list, and for Saudi Arabia to have just allowed for limited shipments to travel through to the Hodeidah port.
The 11th hour decision to designate the Houthis as a terrorist organisation could have damaged any prospects for peace and intensified the humanitarian crisis. But up until this Thursday, Saudi Arabia had tightened its blockade of the Hodeidah port and increased the suffering in Yemen, with the ongoing fighting between Saudi-backed forces and Ansarallah, causing massive loss of civilian lives.
It is perhaps due to the pressure exerted on Saudi-backed forces that we are now seeing a slight easing of the blockade, temporarily, but if Ansarallah does not halt it’s offensive in Marib, it’s likely that things will return to how they were previously.
The US is refusing to place any meaningful pressure on Saudi Arabia at this point, with mainstream Western Press falling in line to condemn Ansarallah, while ignoring the KSA strikes on Yemen’s capital Sanaa. This seems to be due to a US doctrine of considering Saudi offensive action as defensive in nature, if it comes as a response to Ansarallah’s aggression either against Saudi with missile strikes or in Marib.
It was widely pointed out through independent media outlets that Biden’s “end of support for Saudi Arabia’s offensive actions” and support only for defense, has resulted in a situation where all Saudi action is being considered defensive in nature.
The Biden administration has so far failed to end arms sales to their allies in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which they had previously pledged they would hold under review. With the weapons trade still ongoing, it provides the incentive for further aggression in Yemen; and so without sacrificing the profits of the Military Industrial Complex, the US is unlikely to see an end to the war.
Perhaps the most telling moment, so far, of how the Saudi-Biden administration relationship will look, was the President’s inaction in the wake of the recently released report confirming the involvement of Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, in the killing of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. This sent a message to the Saudi Kingdom, that they could act with impunity.
So long as the United States government refuses to punish their allies for war crimes and apply the relevant pressure on them, in order to meet US demands, we will never see them shift away from their aggressive behavior. That is of course, if you believe the United States has any intention of truly ending the 6 year long devastating war in Yemen to begin with.