Yemen’s Chance for Peace Weakens as the Fighting against the Houthis Intensifies

Yemen’s Chance for Peace Weakens as the Fighting against the Houthis Intensifies

As the war in Yemen enters its seventh year the Saudi Arabian-led coalition has begun attempting peace talks with their main adversaries, the Houthi rebel forces that have occupied much of the northwest of the country for the last several years. As President Biden is now committed to withdrawing American support for the coalition, it has left them at a disadvantage which they appear to wish to rectify by negotiating with the Houthis in the hope of reaching an agreement. However, the Houthi forces have largely held a strong position in the war and, as demonstrated by their recent bombings and airstrikes, appear to have little interest in ending the conflict.

The coalition has recently made offers of a cease-fire to the Houthis, providing a strong indication that they wanted to bring an end to the war in Yemen, or were at least prepared to make the effort to negotiate with their enemy. However the chief Houthi negotiator, Muhammad Abdulsalam, has openly dismissed the Saudi proposal of a truce. In response, the Houthis then attacked the airport in Abha in southern Saudi Arabia.

From this show of open defiance and evident disregard for negotiating with the coalition, the Houthis have demonstrated that they are not interested in peace, and are more than prepared, eager even, to continue the conflict that currently favours them. This favour is evident in that the Houthis have now been carrying out drone strikes and targeting key areas within the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh, which appears to only be the beginning of this latest operation. This does not only emphasize their confidence and manpower by attempting such ambitious attacks, but also showing that they do not intend to let the conflict end anytime soon, with open warfare being their clear intention in the long term.

The Houthis Disinterest in Peace

Such recent military escalations between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis across several other cities have increased the Yemenis fears that the chaos their country has endured will intensify in the coming months and years. This is highlighted by the Houthis current focus on the city of Marib, which they have a major ambition to capture in pursuit of their ultimate goal it is believed, to eventually control Yemen in its entirety.

From this, it seems unlikely they will be prepared to accept any significant form of compromise or deal from any potential negotiations with Saudi Arabia in the future, should any peace talks even occur. Furthermore, the military might and strong position that they hold in the conflict so far shows them to be far from desperate or vulnerable as the Saudi coalition might be thought to be; this would therefore give the Houthis little reason to want to negotiate on anything for the long term. All of this has been made apparent by a recent Houthi attack on Marib where it was reported that the Houthis have targeted innocent civilians within the city, launching missiles into refugee camps, causing casualties which included women and children. These actions are hardly a sign of the rebel forces wanting anything other than further conflict.

The Houthis Dominance

This should not be thought to be truly surprising, as it must be wondered why they would want to consider discussing peace with their enemies given that they are winning this war. From a strategic point of view, it makes little sense for the Houthis to negotiate with the coalition and most likely compromise on their power and ambitions. Naturally, it would be more beneficial for them to continue fighting and, as the situation currently stands, maintain every chance of achieving their goals for Yemen through a military victory. Although distressing that this will most probably result in a prolonged conflict, to the suffering of the native population, it seems optimistic, to say the least, that one could hope the Houthis would agree to any peace talks in such circumstances where their dominance is obvious. 

This dominance has been demonstrated by the numerous advances and operations of the Houthis, notably their control of the capital Sanaa as well as most of Yemen’s northwest. Their success has reached the point where some feel that Saudi Arabia can no longer win the war, partly due to the concern Saudi Arabia cannot match the quality of the Houthi forces, further putting the coalition at a disadvantage against their enemies.

This image of increasing Houthi dominance is emphasised by their occupation of Yemen’s capital – this alone is a significant sign of their power and success in the war so far. To risk throwing away such a prize with any serious negotiations makes little sense from either a military or political point of view. 

Unlikely Future for Negotiations

However, it must also be noted that, more recently, the coalition have retaliated against the Houthi by sending airstrikes to destroy one of their missile deport in which twenty rebels were reported killed. It can be determined from this that with the growing hostility from the Houthis, the Saudi Arabians have actively given up on peace talks, at least for the foreseeable future, as the escalating violence between them and the Houthis in the recent days and weeks demonstrates. The rebels’ open rejection of the Saudi offer of a cease-fire appears to have made it clear that there can only be further conflict in Yemen; with the ambitions of the Houthis for complete victory in Yemen, and the implications they will not settle for anything else. It can be argued that the war might only be ended through military methods. This would suggest that, despite the devastation of Yemen over the last six years, the conflict will in all likelihood continue – perhaps even worsen – and that any worthwhile negotiations, let alone a lasting peace, are most likely to be a long way off.


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