By Luis Arellano
The Senate resolution calling for a partial end on U.S. support for the war in Yemen was fitting – a proxy resolution for a proxy war.
While the resolution passed last week was ostensibly concerned Yemen, the Senate’s real aim was Saudi Arabia, which it was hoping to punish for the assassination of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October. Saudi Arabia has been leading an international coalition battling Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who overthrew Yemen’s president, Abdrabbuh-Mansour Hadi in 2015.
Saudi Arabia released a statement in which it “denounced the US Senate’s position based on baseless allegations and accusations, its interference in Saudi domestic affairs and its distorting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s role at regional and international levels.”
Although it was the first time Congress has used powers granted under the 1973 War Powers Act, the move was almost entirely symbolic, experts say. They note that President Trump is not legally bound by the resolution and is unlikely to withdraw support. More important, they say that resolution seems tone deaf to peace talks between the two sides in Sweden.
The two parties agreed to a cease-fire on December 13th in Stockholm.
Under the terms of the deal, the Houthi’s will pull back from Western Hudaydah province as will Coalition forces. This will improve humanitarian aid flows and allow. The deal was largely similar to efforts that the UAE and Saudi Arabia had been pushing for over two years. What’s different this time is that Iran, which supports the Houthi rebels, is publicly supporting a peace talks – suggesting that Iran has finally ended its dream of establishing permanent Houthi control of Yemen.
The United Nations said it has been authorized to monitor compliance.
Following the announcement of the agreement in Stockholm representatives of the Houthi rebellion and the Yemeni government will continue to negotiate toward a final end to the conflict.
Much has changed since an Iranian parliamentarian said in 2016 that Sana’a would soon be the fourth Arab capitol under Iranian influence after Beiruit, Bagdhad and Damascus.
In the past year, coalition forces launched major offensives to relieve the city of Taiz — long under the siege of Houthi rebels and to capture the critical port of Hodeidah. To maintain control, the Houthi militants have resorted to increasingly desperate tactics such as the widespread use of landmines which are more likely to injury Yemeni civilians than coalition forces. Coalition naval efforts also limited the ability of Iran to resupply the Houthis – an event which may cause Iran to develop similar proxies in the future.
How many individuals have been killed in the conflict remains dispute with perhaps as many as 80,000 killed since the start of 2016 including thousands who starved due to the inability to bring humanitarian aid to the country — the ceasefire agreement provisions for aid delivery via Hodeidah and the airport in Sana’a – Yemen’s capitol.
Previous peace talks in Geneva in September broke down after the Houthi rebels failed to show-up. While government and UN negotiators waited for three days the Houthi’s failed to arrive.
“If they were sincere in reaching peace, they should have come, even if we were meeting in separate rooms,” said Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yaman at the time. Martin Griffith, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen since this past February has worked tirelessly to make these talks happen. When the Houthis declined to attend the peace talks in September, he flew to Yemen to meet with their representatives.
Political scientists have long predicted that the conflict will end via a negotiated settlement. Studies show that since the Cold War most civil wars have concluded in a negotiated settlement rather than a clear military victory. Though there are important exceptions to this trend. Sri Lanka succeeded in defeating the Tamil Tigers ( a terrorist group who invented suicide bombing) in 2007 and before that Algeria ended up defeating Islamist rebels who (like the Houthis today) received limited support from Iran.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who opposed the resolution, said we need less symbolism and more action if we are going to stop the bloodshed in Yemen in an interview with Politico before the Senate vote, “Right now I think we really want to focus on getting through these peace talks so that the Houthis, the Saudis can work out some sort of agreement and then come back and revisit the Khashoggi murder,” she said.
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