Attempts to extend the truce in Yemen failed because "the Houthis currently have the upper hand over the legitimate government and the coalition’s shaky military situation," writes Monif Aldarwish in this commentary for commonspace.eu. He adds that the current relative calm in Yemen "is not due to the parties' need for rest; they have rested enough during the truce. It is instead due to the Houthis' association with Iran's foreign policy, which is itself currently proceeding cautiously due to its domestic environment. This association with Iran is what would determine the criteria and timing of the next escalation."
Since 2014, Yemen has been caught in a war between the legitimate government backed by the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE on one side; and the Houthis backed by Iran on the other. This war has killed hundreds of thousands of people and, according to the United Nations, has caused the largest humanitarian crisis in the world since World War II.
On 2 April 2022, a truce between the warring parties started to partially alleviate the suffering of Yemenis who had experienced a horrific, seven-year war that has pushed the country to the verge of famine. The truce ended on the evening of 2 October, after having been extended twice, and each time for two months. Now two months have passed since the end of the truce, and the military and political situation remains much the same as it was during the truce.
Why did the truce end without an extension?
The Houthis rejected the plan of UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, to extend the truce. The most important reason for the Houthis’ rejection of the truce is because their ideological goals carry prejudices about what is happening in the local and regional political space; they are also emboldened by an imbalance in the military situation. Furthermore, one of the Houthis' most important demands - which many political observers consider impossible especially at this early stage of the negotiations and was rejected by the legitimate Yemeni government - was the payment of all salaries of retirees and current employees in the military and civilian corps in the areas under their control, as well as the opening of all ports and airports for all humanitarian and commercial purposes.
What are the dimensions of the complex crisis in Yemen?
The Houthis’ organised military beginnings originated in 2004, carrying an integrated ideological project clearly linked to Iran. Through their literature, media and tactical discourse, observers have concluded that this group has a two-dimensional project. The first dimension is related to the vision and trends of the Iranian project in the region, and the second is that this is a religious project that carries ready-made and advanced political and ideological explanations about everything that is happening in the region and the world.
Let us return once again to the most important demand Houthis insist on in any political talks, and discuss it from different points of view to understand the complexity of the Yemeni crisis. The Houthis demand the payment of the salaries of all retirees and current military and civilian employees in their areas of control. In short, this means paying the salaries of all employees of the de facto government in Sanaa. From the Houthi point of view, this would be a very important step in stabilising their situation and consolidating their authority to govern, and to naturally develop and strengthen their economic position with tax revenues. The provision of salaries would eventually enhance trade movement as 70% of the population lives in Houthi-controlled areas, and 80% of them depend on the public sector for their income.
From the point of view of the average citizen in the Houthi-controlled areas, they simply want a monthly salary to live off, and this salary would be an alternative to waiting in long queues for humanitarian aid. They also want to earn a living with a modicum of honour and devoid of any political calculations, the dimensions of which they may not even realise.
From the point of view of the legitimate government, this payment would represent a blank cheque of support for the Houthi group, and they refuse to even discuss the matter. The problem here lies in the fact that the legitimate government, being the representative of the interests of all the Yemeni people in the eyes of the world, has not conducted any feasibility studies to address the challenge of disbursing salaries, or to find alternative strategies to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people. The government acts in a chaotic and random way without any insight or strategy towards alternative solutions that if rejected by the Houthis, it would be the Houthis’ shortcoming rather than the government’s.
Through the above, we come out with a reading that clarifies the dimensions of the complex crisis in Yemen. The Houthis are a militant religious group that believes only in achieving all its goals in totality and is empowered by the weak military standing of the legitimate government and the coalition.
How does the future political situation look and what are the potential future scenarios?
The truce has failed because the Houthis currently have the upper hand over the legitimate government and the coalition’s shaky military situation. At the same time, the legitimate government is weak and does not operate with any political wisdom. Instead, the government is working in a chaotic manner without any firm commitment to a national strategy to salvage Yemen from its catastrophe. The Yemeni government’s position is reliant on the position of its Arab allies who, in turn, are lacking any coherent strategy to counter Iran in the region.
The current situation, a form of unannounced semi-truce, may continue for a while but Yemen remains nonetheless in conflict, and violence could escalate at any moment. Any escalation by the Houthis would be well-planned and calculated, as has been the norm in their military strategy. The relative calm before the oncoming storm is not due to the parties' need for rest; they have rested enough during the truce. It is instead due to the Houthis' association with Iran's foreign policy, which is itself currently proceeding cautiously due to its domestic environment. This association with Iran is what would determine the criteria for and timing of the next escalation.
The Houthis are likely to escalate in Marib and Taiz because the former is the energy stronghold of the government, and the latter is a city which, although besieged by the Houthis for a long time, remains a chokehold for them.
Despite all this, the biggest loser from not extending the truce and finding a final political solution will be the Yemeni people who suffer from combined humanitarian and social crises.