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  • Seher Arora

Yemen’s Civil War, Potential Peace Deal and Recent Drone Strikes in the Red Sea

The civil war in Yemen can be traced back to the 2011 Arab Spring, a series of pro-democracy protests that broke out throughout the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, striving to topple dictators and put an end to autocratic rule. Similarly, Yemen wanted to see a change in its regime.

The Yemeni uprisings ousted former dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh and replaced him with Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi in February 2012. This transition was not independent, but was possible with the support of the Gulf Cooperation Council; a political and economic alliance of six Middle Eastern countries. The council oversaw negotiations to force Saleh out and install a new government in Yemen, putting Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi in charge. However, the transition failed and instead led to a separatist movement in Yemen’s southern region–ultimately leading to war. 

The Houthis, a Shia rebel group who once supported former president Saleh’s removal had joined forces with Saleh, after being sidelined by the G.C.C.. On the other side, there are forces loyal to the new Hadi government. By 2015 Houthi rebels, with the help of military forces loyal to Saleh, toppled the existing government and took control of the Yemeni capital, Sana’a. Ultimately, this led Saudi along with 9 other Arab countries to form a coalition, with the support of Western powers including the United States and the United Kingdom, with the objective of returning Hadi to power.  

In March 2015 the coalition began a series of airstrikes and imposed a naval blockade on Yemen’s ports to prevent the flow of arms and ammunition to the Houthis. The blockade left 80% of the population without necessary aid. Saudi Arabia expressed three main war goals: the restoration of the Hadi government, the protection of its southern border, and the prevention of the increasing growth of Iranian influence in the region. Since the commencement of the Saudi-led airstrikes, this war has been labeled as a proxy war, with the continuous intervention of powers, including Iran which has denied directly supplying the Houthis with any weapons, and the Gulf State Coalition led by Saudi Arabia, backed militarily and strategically by the United States. By the end of 2021, 377,000 people were killed due to a number of immediate and indirect consequences.

During peace talks that have taken place in the last few years, the U.N. mediated a ceasefire that took place in April 2022 and was renewed twice before formally expiring in October 2022. During this nationwide truce, Yemen saw the lowest number of casualties since the fighting began in early 2015. Although the truce came to a halt, the measures for peacekeeping have since been largely intact. According to ACLED (The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project) June 2022 reports, the six-month truce made humanitarian aid more accessible and resulted in “a significant reduction in violence and casualties countrywide. ACLED’s report on the first two months of the truce found that April and May 2022 saw the lowest levels of reported fatalities from political violence in Yemen since January 2015” (Roy, 2022).  

In early April 2023, Saudi officials and Omani delegations who have been acting as a mediator between the recent discussions held talks with the head of the Houthi Supreme Political Council in Sana’a to discuss a potential settlement to the conflict. The talks focused on ending hostilities in the region and reducing Saudi influence in the area. The Houthis explicitly expressed their expectations of re-opening Houthi-controlled ports, the opening of Sana’a airport, Saudi's payment of wages for public servants working in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen whose salaries have faced substantial cuts for years due to the war and the split of the Central Bank, reconstruction efforts, and the withdrawal of foreign forces. Contingent to these talks, the Saudi-led coalition lifted eight-year-old restrictions on imports headed for Yemen’s southern ports. In December last year, both sides committed to following steps towards a ceasefire, and to engage in U.N.-led peace processes spearheaded by Hans Grundberg, U.N. special envoy for Yemen. 

In Hans’s recent briefing to the Security Council he noted that due to the current war in Gaza and military escalation in the Red Sea, the focus has shifted. Hans stated that “the mediation landscape is now undeniably much more complex, and efforts to reach an agreement are being buffeted by different priorities and interests.”

The Houthis claim to be targeting ships that are owned and operated by Israel. However, many of the attacked ships have no connection to the country. On November 19, 2023, the Houthis attacked a cargo vessel alleging it to be Israeli. Despite Israeli officials asserting that the ship was British-owned and Japanese-operated, further investigation revealed the vessel's affiliation with influential figures within Israel. The Galaxy Leader was passing through the southern Red Sea, the Houthis ordered it to the Hudaydah Port in southern Yemen and seized the crew. 

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the Houthis have launched more than 30 attacks on commercial and naval vessels since November of 2023. These attacks have caused significant damage to global trade, as 12% of it passes through the Red Sea. The US Department of Defense released a joint statement with the United Kingdom stating that their militaries, with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, and New Zealand, have been successful in conducting strikes against 36 Houthi targets. These strikes spanned across 13 locations in Yemen and were in response to the Houthis' continued attacks against international and commercial shipping as well as naval vessels transiting the Red Sea. As several allied nations take steps forward, violence continues to rage. The Houthis admit to striking a U.S.-linked vessel on February 12, adding to the complexities of this multilayered conflict that continue to develop in the region.       

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